will go down as the year of Web 2.0. [I wonder - in
ten years, will people be talking about the Internet bubble of '06?]. In all this
hype talk about Ajax, social tagging and
misspelled-word company names, there are some truly significant changes
taking place. The following are the trends, in my opinion, that have
the true potential
to lead to disruptive technologies in 2007-08 and change the way we use
I: RSS feeds aggregation and filtering
As the amount of free content on the web keeps exploding, with information about everything under the sun from Aardvark to ZZ Top, web users are going to increasingly turn to RSS feeds to stay informed and prevent information overload. (This also implies a surging tide for the rise of high-authority web sites like About.com and Wikipedia, and specialized vertical search engines, but that's another post.)
There are a variety of tools that will help you harness and channel this river of information, and pan for gold:
- Feed Creators, which are used to automatically publish feeds when content is changed, without much additional effort; this has led to a veritable explosion in the availability of feeds
- Feed Sources: Web sites, News, Listings, Blogs, PR announcements, Search Results, even Ebay shopping - they all have feeds now
- Feed Finders, such as Feedster and Blogdigger, help to locate feeds of interest
- Feed Readers, both online and offline, commonly offer bundled functionality for filtering, collating and searching feeds
- Feed Filters and Aggregators, such as BlastFeed, help to organize a large number of feeds and consume them efficiently
In the future, busy professionals who need to keep up with developments and news in their field will consume information using search-based, subscriber feeds from content aggregators and search engines.
Feeds are searchable, timely and have a funnel effect (see diagram). As a user, the most critical items for you personally, can bubble up to the top, and you can modulate how much you consume based on the available time. This allows you to efficiently keep up with the latest changes on any topic, published on the web at large, without getting swamped. For a great description of this methodology, see this article from Marshall Kirkpatrick on his research approach for TechCrunch.
II. De-portalization (Widgets everywhere!)
Over time, users will come to expect horizontal features like Search or Social networking to become available within the context of their vertical application or web site. Two rapidly accelerating trends will magnify this effect: the common availability of widgets and APIs for horizontal engines and the increasing popularity of combined offerings (mashups) that put features and content together in interesting new ways.
This approach has several user benefits:
- The combination can create whole new capabilities and present information in an entirely new way
- There is no context-switching required to exercise different types of functionality
- It puts the onus of evaluating and picking the best-in-class solution for each feature category on the application developer or web designer
- The end user gets a fully-integrated product with a seamless experience
This puts increasing pressure on the remaining content creators to open up their content, create APIs and widgets, and actively encourage integration and partnerships to promote their use, or risk getting left out. "The real danger is not copyright violation, but obscurity and irrelevance!"
III. The Semantic Web
This idea was initially proposed in 1997, by Tim Berners-Lee (the father of the Internet) and others, but it's beginning to become real, and 2007 may be the year when practical usage becomes more common. The Semantic Web is the idea of tagging web pages in machine-readable format to declare what they are, what they're capable of doing and how they might change. This makes it possible for computers to interpret web pages in a far richer way than simple keyword tracking and hyperlinks.
In some ways, Google represents the epitome of pagerank-based, content-scraping Web 1.0 search - a wave that started with the likes of Inktomi and Excite, then moved to AltaVista, and now Google. Arguably, we're now in a second wave (Search 2.0?), driven by specialized vertical searches and social input (a la Del.icio.us and the myriad VSEs).
With the addition of structured metadata for web pages and web services, we can create programs that execute complex tasks and perform sophisticated problem-solving on the web. Given a context, we may see the emergence of parametric search - for example, qualifying the search for a house by location, price, school district and so on.
Parametric search is especially valuable in certain domains, like Healthcare, Finance, Real Estate and Consumer Electronics. For example, Healia allows users to modify the results of a search based on their personal demographics like age, sex, race, etc., which is important when considering the effects of drugs, diseases or symptoms; likewise, Retrevo groups search results into major categories: Most Popular Results, Manufacturer Info, Reviews and Articles, Forums and Blogs, Daily Deals, and Stores.
The Semantic Web concept is especially important if you are a content publisher: without the availability of rich metadata, you risk missing out on upcoming semantic networks - applications and features that depend on understanding the meaning and interlinking of content. Adding metadata to existing content is a difficult problem that gets more complex the later you tackle it. Here's a potential scenario: what if Google adds support for semantic search - how long before your content is ready?
IV. Wikinomics (or The Wisdom of Crowds)
Wikis are not new, but the concept of leveraging the power of collective wisdom for solving complicated problems is becoming a great deal more common. This includes the use of distributed, collaborative technologies for search, classification and tagging. Another manifestation is the growth of Prediction Markets.
The biggest advantage of this approach is that users get to directly participate and influence decision-making. This approach can often be used to solve really difficult problems, providing benefits to both the enterprise and end users.
Many companies have seen a competitive advantage by leveraging collective wisdom, sometimes even by putting proprietary data or complex problems in the public domain. GoldCorp provides a fascinating case study in this area. Recent prizes for innovation or solutions, such as those announced by Innocentive, Netflix et al are a part of this growing trend. This is not a new idea; cash prizes have always been used to drive innovation in certain domains like air travel: the Orteig prize for the first nonstop Transatlantic air flight, and space: the more recent X-prize for the first quickly reusable space vehicle. Another shining example of popular collaboration is Wikipedia, although it also illustrates the dangers of collaboration when participation is not egalitarian (here's an essay on why Wikipedia will fail and the well-known travails of Digg due to the same issue: a few users contribute most of the work or exercise a disproportionate amount of control).
For me, the most fascinating aspect of the whole Web 2.0 phenomenon is that we're coming full circle - from the Internet as the ultimate anti-social geeky way to unplug from reality, to the completely social, the ultimate way to plug in. In the long run, the all-pervasive Internet can only be a reflection of ourselves, as a society and as individuals ...
This post is an entry to Problogger’s group writing project on looking back or looking forward.