EPISODE 124 | Derek DeWitt, communications specialist for Visix
Web 3.0 is almost upon us, and it will herald completely new ways for people to communicate with one another in person, online and in virtual spaces. Organizations need to get in front of this new tech to understand what’s coming and what’s possible.
In this episode, we take a quick look back at the birth of the web and Web 2.0, and then peer into our crystal ball to see what’s coming up for the online world as we all get more connected.
- Hear the origins of the world wide web and how it continues to improve
- Learn the basic of how the Semantic Web (3.0) will work
- Understand six key aspects of Web 3.0
- Walk through a typical day in the world of Web 3.0
- Speculate about what late stage Web 3.0 and Web 4.0 will be like
Derek DeWitt: Technology keeps on improving and changing the way that we do things. Probably no modern innovation has had more influence than the world wide web, and a far reaching upgrade is in the works and due out, well, anytime now. What will this third version, Web 3.0, be like? And how will it be different than previous iterations? That’s what we’ll look at in this episode of Digital Signage Done Right. To truly understand what might be coming, we’ll look briefly back on the history of the web and then see what experts predict Web 3.0 might be like.
Thanks again for listening to this episode of the podcast. I remind you that you can subscribe to the podcast and follow along with a transcript of the episode on the Visix website under Resources and Podcasts.
The first worldwide web leveraged HTML and the internet to make a globally-connected, consumer-facing data storage and retrieval system. Web 2.0, the one we use now, is called the Social Web or sometimes the Participatory Web, and allows for far more interactivity. Web 3.0 will be known as the Semantic Web and will herald in new ways of communicating in ways previously unthought of.
It all began back in 1989, along the Swiss-French border at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research. They were one of many institutions using the internet, a system that used telephone lines to transfer data between geographically dispersed computers and computer networks. Some working on building this system back in the late 60s called this “internetworking”, and the term eventually got shortened to “internet”. Back in those days, the internet was text-only, and the cataloging system for files was a bit cumbersome.
British computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee was working at CERN, but soon found himself frustrated with how difficult it was to find information on this internet. On March 12th, 1989, he sent CERN management a memo titled “Information Management: A Proposal”, which would use embedded hypertext and network addresses to make it much easier to access what he called hypermedia – documents, graphics, audio and even video files stored on computers that were connected to what he proposed calling a web. He’d been experimenting with exactly this system in his own offices because, as he said in a later interview, he had a bad memory, and this was much easier for him.
Berners-Lee’s innovative use of hypertext would allow users to access hypermedia locations with just the click of a mouse instead of having to look up the file locations and then typing in a long string of characters. Initially, he’d meant it to be used on local networks, but eventually he and Belgian informatics engineer Robert Cailliau realized that this system could be used to access anything, anywhere in the world, provided the storage computer was networked into this internet.
Berners-Lee created the Uniform Resource Locator (or URL), Hypertext Markup Language (or HTML) and the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (or HTTP). His team proposed creating the worldwide web, which would use a software interface he called a browser to both access and read a web of hypertext-linked documents and other hypermedia.
In January 1991, CERN servers were activated for the first time. In September, a web server at Stanford University in California was turned on (the first in North America). More fine tuning and improvements continued for the next two and a half years. Then on April 30th, 1993, CERN issued a press release saying that their World Wide Web system would be available to anyone, anywhere, free of charge.
Throughout 1993 and 1994, websites started popping up all over the place and this was the first web, which now in retrospect we call Web 1.0. Characteristics of this first web include:
- that pages were static and not dynamic,
- frames and spacer GIFs were used to position and align elements on a page,
- content came from file systems in the servers,
- GIF buttons and small graphics were embedded with web links,
- HTML forms could now be sent using email,
- and new HTML extensions were created during the first browser wars, like the now dreaded <blink> tag that made the text blink like it was on a circus marquee.
And yet Berners-Lee and his ever-growing team continued to improve and augment. By the late 90s, so many new features had been added that it essentially amounted to a new version of the web. Writer Darcy DeNucci coined the term “Web 2.0” in a 1999 article in Print Magazine, a term that was then promoted heavily by Irish-American writer Tim O’Reilly and by Dale Dougherty, founder of Global Network Navigation (or GNN), which was the first web portal and the first website to use advertising in order to generate revenue. At the first Web 2.0 conference in San Francisco in October 2004, many other people started hearing and then using this term Web 2.0.
Web 2.0 allowed people to do much more than they could previously. People could comment on content, create profiles or user accounts for sites and much, much more. The suite of innovations led to self-publishing platforms like WordPress, tagging (which is classifying content according to keywords), social bookmarking, like buttons and other forms of feedback, and later the ability to quickly share content from one source to another website, either as is or with additional commentary.
This led to the creation of social media, wikis, Software as a Service, and most of the features of the internet that we use today on pretty much a daily basis. Instead of the one-way flow of content the first web enabled, Web 2.0 allowed for two-way information flows, encouraging participation instead of just content consumption. This in turn led to even more people using the internet than ever before, and an increasing number began to rely on it for nearly everything.
Other elements of Web 2.0 include:
- rich web applications, which basically means that online browser-based experiences became more and more like the desktop application experience (in fact, later whole apps would be web only).
- There was a web-only architecture which allowed for the creation of RSS feeds, which monitors a source for changes in content and only grabs new content.
- Web services, which could be a service one electronic device offers another electronic device, or it could be a server that looks out for specific formats like HTML, JSON or XML, which came later and automatically scales content to fit the screen it’s being viewed on (kind of perfect for mobiles and tablets).
- And there were also web-hybrid applications, which were called “mashups”, which allow people to combine things from various webpages or web applications and their own computers; for example, adding your own digital pictures to Google Maps, and then those pictures are accessible to everybody.
- It also allowed for collaborative online work such as wikis, but also Google Docs and Sheets, Microsoft Teams and so on.
Out of all this came a slew of new types of websites and activities including blogging, podcasting, content curating, rating and review sites, wikis, and of course social media and social networking.
The main hallmark of Web 2.0 is people-to-people communication, content sharing and even content creation, sometimes collaboratively. In the first version of the web, if you came across some content and wanted to add something or correct something, you pretty much had to create your own website and then push that out there to others. With Web 2.0, you can comment directly on the original content itself. As Tim Berners-Lee put it in a 2012 article, it’s “a collaborative space where people can interact”. He rather objected to the term Web 2.0, since the web we have today is kind of what he’d always envisioned it would be, and what he had set out to create back in the early 90s.
And yet improvements continue to be made, and we are at the brink of a new type of web altogether, Web 3.0, the Semantic Web. As the name implies, this new version of the web is all about meaning, or semantics. Web 2.0 allows content to be machine-readable, and people use tags, keywords and other tools to tell the machines doing the reading what the content is all about. In Web 3.0, much of the meaning of the content itself will be machine-readable.
One way to think about this is to look at how web search has changed over the years. In the early days, there were at first search engines that were really just directories. A website got included in the directory (sometimes for a fee), and then the search engine would scan the homepage of that website for the same keywords the user had entered into the search engine. But if you weren’t in the directory, it wouldn’t scan your website. This keyword scanning encouraged some websites to cram in certain keywords as often as possible, sometimes just having lists of search terms as a large part of their homepage.
Then Google came along in 1998 and tried to find better ways to search the ever-growing repository of information that the internet was becoming. While they keep a lot of their under-the-hood stuff pretty secret over the years, they’ve added a number of factors and signals their search engine looks for to determine how good a fit a particular website might be to the search terms entered. These things include: relevance of the whole page, expertise of sources, how many other reputable websites linked to the content (this is called backlinks), and so on.
Later, they started adding in your location and even more specific signals about your browsing history, things you purchased, your social media interactions and more. The goal has been to increasingly make your particular search give the best result for you. Your friend sitting right next to you on a different computer might get slightly different results from the exact same search query, because she’s a different person than you are.
Another factor is the quality of the content itself. Now, this is a tricky area since there aren’t people reading webpages and making judgements on it. I mean, with an average of 252,000 new websites being created every day, that would be just impossible. So, no, it’s machines that do the reading and machines that are trying to decide if something is relevant and if it has good quality or not. And in order to do that, the machines need to understand the actual meaning of the content in the same way a person reading it (or listening to it or watching it) would. As Tim O’Reilly said, the Semantic Web transforms the worldwide web from a distributed file system to a distributed database system.
In order to accomplish this goal of making the meaning of internet content machine-readable, what are known as intelligent agents, or IAs, will be used. These are kind of bundles of code that operate autonomously, able to perceive their environment and improve their performance through reinforcing reward functions, and evolutionary algorithms that use a fitness function that allow the IA to finetune its activities in order to more perfectly achieve its goals. Technically speaking, a thermostat that regulates the temperature of a room or a building is kind of an IA. Actually, so is a person, or a company, or a country or even an ecosystem.
Now, a lot of human content can be vague, because the author is employing humor, or is being poetic (which means using language in unusual ways), or employing metaphor, or they’re just a bad writer, or what they’re putting out there is mistaken (misinformation) or is purposely obfuscating facts for manipulative purposes (disinformation). And sometimes, depending on the language being used and the context, a piece of content can have two or more truths. And in many languages, polysemy can be confusing. For example, marking a webpage with the tag “author” could refer to the author of that webpage, or the author of a work referenced on that webpage, or the job of a person mentioned on the webpage and so on. A thing known in the computer world as fuzzy logic is employed by IAs and AIs in order to try and parse these sorts of use cases.
Much of the nuts and bolts of this is code, and really only of interest or relevance to coders. What we’re interested in is how all of this will express itself on the macro level. If Web 1.0 was about reading web pages and enabling people to search for content as information consumers, and Web 2.0 was about letting people become active participants in content (whether they’d created it or not), Web 3.0 will be about tailoring access to content to each individual’s specific interests and needs. Much of this will be possible because there will be swarms of code bundles out there acting on behalf of each user and learning that person.
Some characteristics of the Semantic Web include:
- Artificial Intelligence. Users will receive smarter experiences on the web that are tailored to them. Search results will improve through the use of semantic networks that learn, personalized recommendations and voice assistance. Content curation will be automated to a great extent. AI chat bots and virtual assistants will completely change how organizations onboard and train people. For example, instead of a single training course that everyone has to use and adapt to, each person might get their own personalized training course that best fits their needs, interests and competencies, even their learning styles.
- Decentralization. Because data in Web 2.0 is pretty centralized, a small number of companies have dominated the space. They control every user’s data and content. Web 3.0 will be decentralized, which will enable more control over personal data, and better privacy and security. People will be able to retain ownership of their digital assets and data, able to interact with the internet without being tracked. Basically, one user can interact with another user in what’s known as a “trustless” context, meaning they can connect directly with one another without a third party facilitating that connection. This connection is also “permissionless” because people are accessing the network directly without any government or corporate authority intervening and granting them “permission”.
- Blockchain. Much of Web 3.0 will be built on top of blockchain technology using decentralized apps called dApps. This allows for greater transparency, but also deep encryption ensures a massive increase in privacy and security. Blockchain could be used to securely store and track data on user interactions with things like digital signage, providing valuable insights for brands and marketers.
- Interoperability. Different systems and applications will be able to communicate with one another seamlessly, sharing data as needed. This prevents data silos and is much more efficient. There will be even more opportunities for collaboration over the web. This will even extend to the ability to instantly translate any content into any language, breaking down language barriers and ensuring effective communication regardless of linguistic differences.
- Emerging Technologies. Virtual and augmented reality experiences will see a massive increase, allowing people to interact with one another in a much more realistic way. Advances in 3D tech will further blend the real world and online experiences. 5G cellular networks will greatly increase the speed of digital interactions, enabling a number of innovations and changes to how things are done.
- Ubiquity. Web 3.0 will be everywhere. Eventually, almost all products and services will be connected in some way to the decentralized web, and people can connect where and when they want to, with whomever or whatever they want to. A good portion of web traffic will be devices talking to other devices, the so-called Internet of Things (or IoT). This is part of the automation that will be a hallmark of Web 3.0.
Well, okay, that’s all very nice, but it’s a little vague or hard to picture. What is this Web 3.0 world going to look like?
Well, voice assistants, like Siri, will become better at finding the information a person is looking for and better at finetuning what it offers to the person requesting it. For example, in a household, John says, “Hey, Siri, play me some good music”, and because the AI knows he is a big fan of progressive rock, it plays some King Crimson, then a bit of Jethro Tull, followed by some Pink Floyd. John asks for some more modern prog rock, so Siri serves up some Radiohead, then maybe a song by The Smile, and maybe a little Glass Hammer. But Rafaella, who lives in the same house, really likes Taylor Swift, so when she asks Siri to play some music, she gets Taylor, then Ariana Grande and Selena Gomez, perhaps a little Lady Gaga thrown in. Siri has learned each person’s tastes and preferences.
This same sort of personalization will happen for web searches, looking for restaurants in the area, vacation suggestions, book recommendations, clothing options and pretty much everything else. Different search contexts can be easily combined as well. The search prompt “find a good restaurant within 30 minutes of my house” will yield certain results, “find a good restaurant for me and my partner within 30 minutes of my house” will yield different results, and “find a good romantic restaurant within 30 minutes of my house for me and my partner to celebrate our anniversary” will give different ones again.
An example of what a typical day for an average person might look like could go something like this:
7:00 AM – You wake up to your smart alarm clock, which automatically adjusts to your sleep patterns and wakes you at the optimal time. Your personal AI assistant adjusts the temperature and lighting of your home according to your preferences, which it learned rather than having to be instructed, and it even opens the curtains. It also reminds you of your meetings and appointments for the day. You shower off and then use your augmented reality mirror to virtually try on different outfits and accessories before actually having to put anything on your body. You have breakfast, perhaps taking advice from your personal AI about nutrition and dietary needs. If while you’re making breakfast, you run out of a certain thing, your refrigerator automatically adds it to the shopping list.
8:00 AM – If you’re going into a physical workplace that day, you commute in your self-driving car or a ride share, which uses real-time data on traffic and weather with an AI optimized route, minimizing travel time. While in the car, since you’re not driving, you can use your wearable device to check your emails, calendar, news updates and so on. If you’re working from home or wherever, you’ll still progress through your day pretty much in the same way as what follows.
9:00 AM- You get to work, where your AI summarizes and filters messages from the organization and your coworkers, so you only see the ones that are relevant to you. You use your personal digital workspace to collaborate with your team on various projects. Then you attend a virtual meeting with colleagues from different parts of the world using VR, which really does make it seem like you’re all in the same room.
12:00 PM – It’s time for lunch. You use AR to find nearby restaurants that have foods you like and aren’t too busy, or maybe just order something to be delivered to you at noon sharp. You order and pay using a dApp on your mobile device.
2:00 in the afternoon – You attend a training session using a mixed reality platform, which allows you to learn new skills in an immersive and interactive way. The platform uses artificial intelligence to personalize the training content based on your learning style and performance.
3:30 in the afternoon – You attend another meeting, this time with your personal AI taking notes for you and reminding you of action items, and providing realtime translation if one or more of the participants are not speaking your native language.
5:00 PM – You finish work, and your personal AI reminds you of your evening plans, including any reservations you have, or maybe you have tickets to the cinema or whatever. Perhaps you stop off at the gym on the way home, which you’ll do in another self-driving car or ride share, and your AI assistant will monitor your progress towards your fitness goals. A VR headset during your workout makes that much more interesting, allowing you to feel like you’re exercising on a mountaintop, or lifting weights on a tropical beach or doing yoga at a Beatles concert in 1965.
7:00 PM – You head home and use your voice-activated smart home assistant to control your home’s lighting, temperature and entertainment systems. Dinner is once again optimized with your dietary preferences and restrictions noted.
8:30 – You decide to relax by watching a movie, and your AI assistant suggests choices based on your past viewings and ratings. It also adjusts the lights and temperature from maximum comfort. You might even want to try out your new holographic display, which projects a 3D image to make it feel like you’re watching the movie, not in your living room, but actually in a movie theater.
At 10:00 PM, you go to bed and your personal AI assistant helps you wind down by playing some relaxing music or guided meditation. Your smart sleep system monitors your sleep patterns and provides recommendations for improving your sleep quality, even adjusting the room’s temperature throughout the night as needed. You set your smart alarm clock for the next day and drift off to sleep, looking forward to another day in the future of Web 3.0.
Social media platforms will also make the transition. For example, right now there’s a company called Steemit, which is a social media site that uses blockchain to ensure total privacy, but it also enables them to create a reward system for users who post, comment and upvote on the site. Social media will also increasingly use VR and AR avatars, becoming partly or even fully immersive, think of a much more high-definition version of Second Life and all that talk about the recent Metaverse lately, but that it looks absolutely amazing and has almost zero time lag.
Even online data storage will change. Today, most of us use things like Dropbox, Google Drive or OneDrive to stick things in the cloud, so we can access them from anywhere. But platforms like Storj use a globally distributed cloud object system, where each file is broken into 80 or more separate pieces (kind of how email works), with each piece being stored in separate nodes on the network. Only someone with the proper encryption key can reassemble the pieces into the original form. This means not even the company itself can access what’s stored in there unless they’re given access by the user.
The combination of 5G networks, AI, IoT and all these Web 3.0 innovations will enable things like self-driving vehicles (that have way better accident records than we do now with human drivers), remote surgeries that happen in real time (of which there was one not terribly long ago), haptic interfaces that will let people not only enter virtual worlds and spaces but physically experience them. And all this will create literally millions of jobs that right now don’t even exist.
That all sounds pretty interesting. You might be thinking, but what does all this mean for communicators?
As we often say on this podcast, one of the challenges today is competing with the everyday communications tech people are already using. For digital signage, that’s basically how to make content that makes people put down their phones. But we also need to meet basic expectations the audience has about how communications should work. When many people can work or learn from literally anywhere, what and how organizations’ message will necessarily change. So will how new talent is attracted and retained, and trained.
One way that will change dramatically is through creating memorable experiences. In an article on Provoked Media, the managing director of Ruder Finn India, Atul Sharma, calls this “storyliving”. Now, that term has been used by Disney to describe new communities they’re planning that are designed to enhance and foster connectivity between residents, allowing them to form friendships and associations, and pursue their interests and so on.
In the world of virtual reality, storyliving means experiencing a story as an active participant instead of just a passive witness or consumer. Sharma predicts that, the recent false start notwithstanding, much of communications in the not-so-far-off future will take place in the Metaverse, which is not one thing but actually a whole bunch of things cobbled together (in the same way we talk about “social media”, but social media is actually a bunch of different sites and formats).
This new Metaverse will essentially erase geographical barriers, letting more people participate in more experiences, and those experiences will become more and more immersive. And people will be able to actively participate. Think of it as sort of a computer-generated Burning Man, but without the mud pits. The target audience will be able to sort of enter into a dialogue with not only other people, but various brands and organizations, and this will remind them that, ultimately, an organization or a brand is actually made up of people. Think of storyliving as the ultimate extension of gamification.
Now, this is a whole new mindset for those tasked with communicating. Putting out a press release with a company’s mission statement and values will not be nearly enough in such a world. Instead of a bunch of words on a screen, organizations might instead build an entire virtual pavilion, like what you might find at a World Expo, with various exhibits that not only show different aspects of those core values, but how they might play out in the real world. People will be able to stroll around this space using VR, like a digital museum. As Web 3.0 advances, they’ll be able to interact with what’s being offered, maybe suggesting better examples or asking for clarifications, helping the organization finetune what they say they’re going to do in order to better meet the needs and expectations of the people who will be affected.
Another gamification idea that will get supercharged by Web 3.0 is rewards. Right now, a few organizations are experimenting with offering NFTs for people who constructively interact with their offerings, but soon that will expand to include any number of possible incentives. Micropayments are already being used by many types of organizations, and early successes suggest that this will soon become ubiquitous. More things, even just simple interactions, will be monetized, even though the reward might not be money per se.
Analytics is another area that will see improvements by leaps and bounds. While more transparency might seem less secure, it’s actually more secure, because blockchain technology creates an immutable public ledger that cannot be altered. This means fewer bots and less fake internet traffic, which means way less garbage to wade through when you’re trying to calculate your engagement and ROI.
Information will be able to be shared efficiently and securely, so only those that you want to see it can access it. This all amounts to a sea change in the way that communications is conceived of. No longer will communicators have to wonder if their messages are being seen. They’ll know in real time when people interact with their content and how people are responding.
It’s likely that at least some digital signage will become 3D, and this opens up a whole host of design options that were previously unavailable. And with more people spending more time in an AR or VR environment, digital signage will also have to undergo some fundamental shifts. If people are walking around with smart glasses that enable them to see augmented reality content, communicators will be able to target multiple audience members with tailored messages specifically for them, and yet, since it’s all in AR, there’s no actual visual clutter in the physical space. Not that a screen here or there today is particularly intrusive, but someday digital signage might skip the screen altogether, and be wholly AR, beamed at passersbys’ glasses, or whatever they’re using to access that level of reality.
In virtual reality contexts, where the entire environment is digital, literally anything goes. Today, you might attract your audience’s attention to the digital sign by having a news ticker feed scrolling across the bottom of the screen, but in a VR world, you could do anything. Maybe you create a beautiful tree for people to relax under and when they do, your messages rain down like cherry blossoms, dislodged by a light breeze on a spring day. Or you make a virtual lake for people to enjoy a bit of VR recreational sports on, and hiding in there under the water and the plants going around the sides, even the ducks and fish that use the lake, are your messages. What you’re actually doing is creating experiences that people can enjoy and interact with, which also contain the information that you want to impart to them.
It’s almost impossible right now to truly come up with all the ways that we’ll be able to use these technologies to truly engage audiences in a constant back and forth, a virtuous circle of experiences that encode information and are enjoyable, people interact with and comment on, and so the experience gets adjusted. And much of that adjustment will happen automatically, thanks to AIs working in the background on the communicator’s behalf.
We won’t really see what the true capabilities of all this are until people who have grown up with it all around them start to take over the reins of communications. But it’s going to be very exciting to see what those early pioneers come up with.
One thing is probably for certain, and that’s that content creation will almost certainly become much more decentralized. Some content might just be automatically generated by AI, based on what it has learned about your organization and your audience. People’s interactions with your content actually then become a sort of secondary content of its own. Since more and more of the web will be a series of interlocked databases, instead of individual files and content pieces, it might be more that you create a sort of virtual environment that people then do whatever they want in, whenever they want to, and the environment, seemingly all by itself, adjusts and reacts to them. This is just some of what Web 3.0 will most likely enable.
As wild as all this sounds, it might be natural to ask the question, well, if there’s going to be a Web 3.0 soon, will there also one day be a Web 4.0? And the answer is yes; it’s already being conceived of. Web 3.0 is the Semantic web, but Web 4.0 will be the Intelligent Web.
It’s thought that, by the time this is ready, people will have permanent virtual alter egos (maybe even several of them), and everything will be geared towards that. Things will become even more user-friendly, ideas and information more easily and securely shared. It’ll even be easier and more intuitive to explore content, with billions of autonomous AI agents working hard to give each person just what they want and need. The entire system will be self-learning, and collaboration will happen, not just person-to-person, but even person-to-web and web-to-person. This will be a proactive web that tries to anticipate people’s needs, maybe even before they start asking for them.
There may also be, by this time, brain computer interfaces (BCIs), a technology that is already being developed right now. This would allow people to interact with the web using only their thoughts, albeit with machine assistance. Everything that will be possible with Web 3.0 will be even more enhanced in Web 4.0.
But that’s down the road ways. For now, as time’s arrow keeps moving us forward, it’s the exciting new world of Web 3.0 that we have to look forward to. And be assured, it is coming, and probably a lot faster than you think.