09:38 AM

11.13.06: Tired of all the 2.0 hype? Here comes Web 3.0

Noting, in the aftermath of the O'Reilly summit, that Web 2.0 "has in recent months become the focus of dot-com-style hype in Silicon Valley," John Markoff writes in the Times of Web 3.0:

[The] goal is to add a layer of meaning on top of the existing Web that would make it less of a catalog and more of a guide — and even provide the foundation for systems that can reason in a human fashion. That level of artificial intelligence, with machines doing the thinking instead of simply following commands, has eluded researchers for more than half a century.

Markoff equates Web 3.0 with the Semantic Web, which academics like Tim Berners-Lee and others have been talking about for five years or so. But Nova Spivey, CEO of Radar Networks, who is quoted heavily in the piece, questions the terminology:

I agree with Markoff that the Web is moving towards a new era of more intelligent apps. I also think that this intelligence will be enabled by adding more semantics to the data. But does this evolution qualify for a new name like Web 3.0?

Web 3.0 is about making all this technology and content smarter -- by adding semantics to the data (using the Semantic Web and microformats, etc.) and by adding more smarts to applications so that they can do a better job of helping humans (natural language search, semantic search, recommendation agents, etc.).

For a hint of what Web 3.0 is, or could be, Markoff offers the University of Washington's KnowItAll project, run by students and financed by Google. A sample system called Opine takes user reviews and comments and returns a recommendation. For a demo hotel search site:

Whereas today’s travel recommendation sites force people to weed through long lists of comments and observations left by others, the Web. 3.0 system would weigh and rank all of the comments and find, by cognitive deduction, just the right hotel for a particular user.

“The system will know that spotless is better than clean,” said Oren Etzioni, an artificial-intelligence researcher at the University of Washington who is a leader of the project. “There is the growing realization that text on the Web is a tremendous resource.”

Companies like Radar, Danny Hillis' Metaweb and Doug Lenat's Cycorp all have deep ties to the intelligence community, Markoff points out.

Hillis says: "People haven’t realized this spooky thing about how much they are depending on A.I." So is Web 3.0 an organic evolution of Web 2.0 or the revenge of the AI nerds? Maybe both. Maybe AI has struggled for 50 years for lack of enough stuff to apply intelligence to.

“With Flickr you can find images that a computer could never find,” said Prabhakar Raghavan, head of research at Yahoo. “Something that defied us for 50 years suddenly became trivial. It wouldn’t have become trivial without the Web.”