Is anyone else tired of hearing the term "Web X.0"?

Just when we are finally getting our heads around Web 2.0, here comes another version. Perhaps this term Web 3.0, already grating to some ears, is a bit like Microsoft issuing new versions of Windows – you don’t really want it, but you think you may have no choice.

Change also brings risk and dialogue among many parties facing the same uncertainty. “People love to name things, stick a name on something and be the first to define it, and the Web offers some exciting opportunities to do that because it is just like the Wild West in many ways,” says Michelle Warren, principal at MW Research & Consulting.

Most people who define and add to the hype surrounding Web 3.0 will be at least partially correct because parts of the evolution are already quite visible in its foundation. Bit by bit, technological advances have added efficiency and improved organizations’ abilities to transact business, talk to customers and analyze results. But the sustained use of any new tool or technology always comes down to whether or not it helps people execute against fundamental business challenges and opportunities.

It’s likely that the next evolution of the Web will be just that, a series of changes, new options and choices, more than it will be one great leap. And, the dynamics that exist between new technologies and business adoption are not always obvious. If it were left completely to business drivers to spawn new technological developments, we would not see much improvement because inherent behavior is to “stay within the box.” If left to pure R&D, we would likely end up creating solutions looking for a problem. That is precisely why understanding the convergence of technology and its users is important.

Where We’ve Been

Even if we choose not to define Web 3.0, we can take a step back and look at the evolution of the Web. In the beginning, the Web was essentially one-way communication. Individuals and companies posted information about themselves, and the audience simply read and digested the information. End of interaction.

Technology and business adoption came together in Web 2.0 with the spawning of tools and channels to notably improve communication and collaboration on the Web. It marked a more interactive two-way conversation that quickly latched onto social media sites like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Some of these were embraced, others didn’t work as well and others are still evolving.

A number of companies were eager to adopt these online tools, and as the dust settled, some were actually able to gather insight and drive business through their use. Many more companies either held out, or worse, adopted these social media tools without defined goals and experienced few benefits, if any.

Social media has been one of the poster children of the 2.0 generation, but now fatigue is settling in and most companies are still unsure of how social media can be used most effectively.

While it retains the potential to be a game changer, more companies are moving away from seeing social media as a must-have tool or silver bullet. Instead, they are looking at social media first and foremost as a new channel, or channels, of communication. As in every communication channel, success depends on thoughtful implementation and execution – not just the simple fact that a tool has been deployed.

Back to the Present

The attributes and implications of Web 3.0 have been defined in some speculative absolute terms. In Wikipedia, for example, one definition says it’s about the semantic Web and personalization. Another sees it as the return of experts and authorities to the Web. A third definition trumpets Web 3.0 as a “totally integrated world,” a cradle-to-grave experience of always being plugged into the Net.

While the future has yet to arrive, Warren prefers to look at trends rather than a minutia of details to guess where we are headed. For starters, she sees the new Web model bringing more of an “interactive sensory approach” to users.

For example, websites using video or taking advantage of touch technology tend to communicate better with users, and also tend to listen to responses. This is two-way communication that can be more or less than direct interaction depending on the tools and identities being used. The interactions might be as direct as in a contact center, but more often, they involve self-service and accessing accounts directly. Apple and Microsoft platforms, Warren says, are encouraging people to use their fingers as a way to input and interact with data.

What this newer Web allows is a transparency that increasingly empowers end users. “Conversations we are encouraged to have with everybody in the world or with our audience … are forcing us to be transparent and honest and realistic in the way information is presented, and we hold each other accountable for those messages,” Warren says. “That is the most interesting part. It started with Web 2.0 but will continue through Web 3.0 and will have interesting ramifications to customer service departments.”

The back and forth sensory interaction can be initiated by tools, such as the barcodes popping up in newspapers and magazines requiring readers to scan or take pictures of them with their smart phones. Once they do, users can be rewarded with the latest Hollywood trailer, entered into a contest, emailed coupons or provided more information on a product.

Another example of Web 3.0 is Mingleverse’s Mingle Room service, described as a next-generation, real-time, voice, video and multimedia communication platform that allows anyone, anywhere to engage with others over the Internet in a somewhat realistic and immersive way.

Some of these tools might be faddish, but at the core, Warren says, is interactivity. “It is not just one person playing solitaire on their computer; it is Web-based interactive games with teams of people. Games such as Farmville and Mafia Wars are driving users onto Twitter or Facebook and shifting the way we interact with each other.” Based on these startups, we’re likely to see improved versions and more similar ideas in the next three years.

 

Not There Yet

Observers including Warren say that for these developments to become more usable and more interactive, we will first need even more infrastructure and fast, cheap, easy access to the Internet. Other issues of mobility and preferred devices are still being sorted out.

However, Stuart Crawford, co-founder and partner with Ulistic Internet Consulting, a firm that helps small businesses with online business needs, believes we have already arrived and are involved in a more advanced Web 3.0 world today.

Crawford’s view of Web 3.0 is not about technology or even communication. “Web 3.0 is about monetization. It is about how companies and organizations leverage people and raving fans, and cultivate these relationships to drive new opportunities to their business. This also includes damage control online.”

That is another reason for companies large and small to turn to online services and listen. In Crawford’s estimation, the new Web world is much more vocal than the marketing standard of creating and broadcasting a message. “Companies must understand that the world is talking about them, their competitors and their industry. [They need to] listen and then respond, rather than immediately reacting to what is happening around them.”

With so many opinions on what Web 3.0 is, companies should ultimately pay less attention to whatever new technologies may come about and focus on the fundamental business problems they’re truly trying to solve. They need to take the time and effort to understand technology’s place and define an implementation strategy that will net the best business results for their organization.

“Think of [Web 3.0] as a marketing opportunity, an opportunity to engage potential customers’ senses moving forward,” says Warren. There is no end to the number of opportunities for advertisers, marketers and customer service to reach out to customers and solicit feedback about a product in whatever way they choose, whether it be by video or typing it out. All of this can increase the potential power of Web 3.0 going forward.

Oftentimes we already know the message we’re trying to send. Now it needs to sink in that the new Web, whatever we call it, has a lot to do with understanding channels of communication, productivity and immersion from the customer perspective.

And before you know it, we will soon be onto Web 4.0, whatever that might be.