note: this isn't an April Fool's post, at least not intentionally...
Semantic Web, WTF?
Blogga please, tell me something i give a shit about.
while i find the concept of a semantic web intellectually stimulating, for the most part i think it's just a lot of geeky mental masturbation (did i just repeat myself?). personally i hope folks like Metaweb are successful, but i have a feeling it will take awhile to get there. maybe in 5-10 years let's take another look & see where we're at.
Until then, i'd rather talk about something with near-term (ie, before the Singularity) implications.
so i have a more practical assessment of what "Web 3.0" is going to look like: it's the "always-logged-in internet", and i'll predict that we could get there in just 2-3 years. the key to all of this is aggregating large groups of user logins, using friend lists, messaging systems, & feeds for relevant targeting & viral distribution, and integrating payment systems / online wallets to close the loop & conduct ecommerce transactions.
Facebook is almost there with all of these components (e-commerce is coming soon), but even though they're ahead of the game the big winners are still likely to be the two remaining Internet juggernauts Microsoft & Google, and whomever buys Yahoo & AOL (see MSFT & GOOG). Of course NewsCorp / MySpace and Apple will also be significant players, and there's certainly a continuing role for major ecommerce players like eBay and Amazon (or at least their underlying payment systems). But it wouldn't be surprising to see many of these services consolidated into just 2-4 vendor alliances over the next few years. the benefits to any of these groups will be substantially greater distribution, user engagement, & monetization.
still with me, Inter-tards?
yeah, i know it sounds like a big clusterfuck, but let me walk you through it.
(note: i'll limit my crystal-ball gazing to the US / English-speaking countries, since i'm not really qualified to talk about the global scene, altho i was impressed by this recent interview & presentation on asian internet & social networking services by Benjamin Joffe).
Microsoft wants Yahoo like Imelda wants Shoes, but Not for the Reasons You Think
Microsoft is about to buy Yahoo, yet most people still have no frigging clue about the real reasons this deal is happening. for sure, those reasons do include eyeballs, search, & advertising -- Microsoft is prudently paying up for Yahoo's leading share of eyeballs & page views, and more importantly its [gradually decaying] share of the search & online advertising market, which IAB says totaled ~$21B in 2007, and is still growing quite nicely. on those merits alone, and counting the book value of Yahoo's minority stakes in Yahoo! Japan & Alibaba, Yahoo is easily worth $40-50B... for the right buyer, anyway. but if the Borg was just trying to buy another portal and/or shore up a distant #2-3 position in search, it probably wouldn't be worth the hassle.
this discussion is timely since the real story is this: Microsoft is trying to leapfrog Google's dominance in search by buying a similarly dominant some might say monopoly position in email & IM, and use those assets to create a universal web login, aka Hailstorm 2.0.
this is vintage Microsoft, right out of the embrace & extend playbook, and it just might work. note they probably still need a dominant web payment service to seal the deal, but it's not inconceivable to think Microsoft goes after eBay (to get PayPal) or Amazon after they swallow Yahoo. either would suffice.
btw while i know this sounds like a vast right-wing conspiracy, let me be clear -- the benefits to users are tremendous if/when this starts to happen, regardless whether it's Microsoft or Google (or anyone else) who's leading the charge.
and for those of you who think Facebook Apps are the biggest waste of time since Tetris, imagine what could happen if the targeting gets a helluva lot better & we start using the same social sharing / viral distribution techniques to discover cool stuff on the open web...
... and then buy it together at substantial group discounts, like a pack of electronic wolves bringing down a very big & tasty e-caribou. mmm, yummy. if you think Facebook NewsFeed, Twitter, & FriendFeed are addictive, wait until you see Viral E-Commerce in action. it will be one giant Fucking E-Feeding Frenzy.
but before we get to end-game, let's try & figure out wtf Web 3.0 means...
"Web 3.0": It's a Series of Tubes
over the past few years i've refrained from offering high-minded opinions about what Web 2.0 means, other than a) it's a good name for a web conference, and b) ajax & flash are cool to look at / drag around. beyond that there's no real magic to Web 2.0. sure, lots of web users can help you beta test your startup, crowdsource good content, and filter it better... you can certainly make use of that. but the biggest benefit of the internet is simply being able to measure & collect user feedback in real-time. if you're smart, you can use that feedback loop to test for better landing pages / conversion, iterate incrementally, & make better decisions -- resulting in better user experience & (hopefully) the ability to make [more] money.
so when people have long conversations about "Web 2.0" i usually think they're either full of horseshit, selling something, or both. and until recently anyone who said anything about "Web 3.0" was full of horseshit squared. given that perspective, believe me it's saying something when i go out on a limb like this and use Web 3.0 in the title of a blog post. i may indeed be full of it myself, but i really do believe there's going to be a sea-change in how people use the web over the next year or three.
and while it's related to innovations in social networking & social app platforms, i'm not sure Facebook or MySpace (or even LinkedIn) are the ultimate winners in this one. social networks are clearly part of the overall web [r]evolution, as are internet powerhouses Apple, eBay, & Amazon, but this one still comes down to either Google or Microsoft (note: assuming Yahoo gets bought by MSFT, & AOL gets locked-up by GOOG one way or another)
- User Logins & Passwords
- Friend Lists / Address Books
- Payment Systems
Messaging systems (email & IM; also SMS) comprise the largest aggregations of user logins. They also have implicit social graph data & targeted friend lists buried in their data stores, but they take a little mining to get to. The #1 and #2 players in messaging are Yahoo & Microsoft, with Google & AOL duking it out for #3 (note: Gmail is growing a lot faster than AOL). And if you include messaging on social networking systems, Facebook & MySpace are also significant players. These two have advantages over other auth / identity systems, since they've already built out Friend Lists, News Feeds, Social App platforms, & other viral mechanisms that enable amazingly efficient (if spammy) distribution vectors. But they still need better ways to monetize; and currently Google is doing that best of anyone via search. ecommerce systems like eBay & Amazon are also doing it well via online shopping & online wallets (PayPal, Amazon 1-Click), & Apple is doing a nice job via iTunes collecting payment info on millions of users too.
I'm sure i'm overlooking a few significant players, and like i said this ain't a global market analysis, but hopefully you get the general Web 3.0 picture.
if not, here it is summarized:
"Web 3.0" is the condition which exists when someone is always "logged in" on the web, and can move from site to site without ever having to re-enter a username/password.
It means my address book / list of friends is always available, and more importantly that my current context is understood and considered when i want to share my experience with others. It means when i'm asked to "send to a friend", instead of seeing a list of 150 friends, or asked to upload & spam my address book of 1500 contacts, i'm presented with a list of only 5-10 contextually-relevant friends... who might be interested in knowing when i'm surfing an ultimate frisbee website for parents of 2 kids, or about to buy a book about italian christmas cuisine traditions in the PA-OH-WV tri-state area. if you think Beacon was scary, then this service probably isn't for you... but i bet it will work fantastic for many folks, with a bit of tweaking & tuning.
Currently the technology to pull this off is available in bits & pieces through the various internet platform service providers i've noted above. None of them has enough critical mass of a) users and b) technology components to pull it off by themselves, but with the right acquisitions and rebel alliances, a comprehensive solution is within reach of several vendor groups. The most likely leaders of those groups are Microsoft and Google, with participation / key infrastructure from other leaders in messaging (Yahoo, AOL), social networking (Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn), and ecommerce (Amazon, eBay, Apple).
i'll followup up on this core observation in a few future posts, but i think i've outlined the main points.
other interesting items for future posts / discussion:
- engagement: using profile data for landing page optimization
- distribution: using messaging data stores for better contact list targeting / keyword relevance
- monetization: using targeted friend lists & feeds for "viral e-commerce"