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07 Mar 09 Internet Versions: Fact or Fiction

Things changes pretty fast on the Internet. Its growth curve has been unpredictable so far; the way it was born, percolated, got accepted, took the world by storm, staggered, failed, risen from its near-death situation, and again conquered the world by even greater force, can provide a plot for an Oscar-winning thriller.

Unlike the evolution in any other industry the evolution of the Internet has been rapid. In the context of our technological advancements, the Internet can be said to have changed twice before the time got a chance to blink even once.

After an abject failure of dot-coms in early 2000s, marketers came up with yet new term to mark the shift in the way business is going to be in the post ‘dot-com bust’ world, and they termed it Web 2.0; by effect anything falling before this point of time got piled up under the name, Web 1.0.

It has been close to a decade since Web 2.0 came into existence, and now another term is rolling around in the virtual world; this term, as self-professed Internet gurus claim, marks the beginning of a new era of the Internet. And this new era has been termed as Web 3.0 or semantic web.

After all these name games, the skeptic on the back bench will ask, is it for real? Does these terms has any real meaning, or are these terms just marketing gimmicks deployed to delude people and rake in profits?

Well, the answer to the skeptic’s question is both no and yes. ‘No’ because with any evolutionary product it is hard to locate one point in time and say from here we began changing and anything after this point is new and improved, whereas, anything falling before this exact point in time is old and stale. Things don’t work this way. And the answer is ‘yes’ because we might not agree, and may be rightly so that these terms do have any real value, but we cannot deny the symbolic utility of these terms.

Web 2.0 rather refers to a time span when people around the globe started to interact with the Internet in a manner different from the way they usually interacted with it in the past. Web 2.0 stands for the behavioral change in the way we consume the Internet.

Earlier either you were a producer of contents, or you passively consumed it. The power of interactivity (both spontaneous and induced), the main strength of this medium, was largely unavailable for the common man. The users of the medium had very limited say in this world, and then a time come and everyone started contributing to the vastness of the Internet. Sharing became the essence of the medium. People started sharing their pictures, texts, opinions, videos, and started forming interest-based communities, alliances etc. The Internet changed forever, everyone is now a producer and a consumer at the same time, they can now voice their concern and the Internet took the center stage, and thus was born a term prosumer (both producer and consumer of the content) to define this new individual.

Everything was available for everyone; from classroom videos to MMS, from beach-holiday pictures to the pictures describing the harsh reality of society, from election campaigns to activist movements, from blogs to wikis, from diggs to twitters, from myspace to facebook; but something was missing. And that sense of ‘something is missing’ gave rise to the new developments in the cyberspace, which got termed as Web 3.0 or semantic web.

Now, there are two kinds of descriptions available that claim to define Web 3.0 or semantic web. One definition says:

In the world of web 3.0, the machines can read the web pages as efficiently and as swiftly as we human can do; search engines will be more intelligent and can fetch the desired results, and will understand the human language (natural language processing); semantic web will be the place where our software agents will perform those task for us, which we often find hard to complete on our own.

Another definition of web 3.0 holds that, web 3.0 stands for the expert layer added to the contents of web 2.0. According to the disseminators of this theory, the expertise is that ‘something is missing’ stuff.

According to them, in the place (read web 2.0) where anyone can add anything, the reliability, authenticity and accountability of contents are doubtful. It is just like grapevine communication, where people can say anything they like, whereas, web 3.0 has added one more layer to sharing and that is of expertise.

Now, you know the authenticity and the value of the advices given to you, as you know the credential of the person who is giving them and who is accountable for those advices. This is what differentiates from

In my view, both the theories are right because when things evolve they don’t evolve in one direction. Evolution is not unidirectional, but it is multidirectional. And this holds true for the Internet as well.

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