I'm just catching with my blogroll after a short holiday, and this post from Peter Rip struck me as a spot-on analysis of the state of Web 2.0. The excitement of hundreds of startups launching their beta sites, the awe of the mega-deals (MySpace, YouTube), and the ongoing debate on whether the VC model is broken because the new startups don't need much capital -- are beginning to fade. Om Malik is calling it "the End of Innocence."
What have we got to show for all the hype? For one, we have thousands of fabulously easy-to-use, addictive web services all doing pretty much the same thing and most waiting for a revenue model (or an acquirer) to materialise. We have a handful of very happy founders and investors, most of them among the privileged class of Sequoia LPs. And we probably have some very frustrated corporate IT managers who are being harrassed for being slow to make their Intranets and corporate applications Web 2.0-like.
Those are all good things, but they don't add up to a technology revolution, a new investment paradigm or much more than a medium-size hill of beans. The great tools that define Web 2.0 -- wikis, blogs, tagging -- are being absorbed into the mainstream. They have made the Web more usable -- by humans mostly, and some annoying Google Earth mashups -- and arguably a better place. Now Web publishing is as easy as Web browsing has been for years.
But the next evolution of the Web is trickier -- how to turn all this great content into a platform for applications? The next generation of applications will live on the Web and use real-time data culled from Web sites and from the databases behind them (the "deep Web"). This requires a maturing of two innovations:
- Making Web content not just machine-readable but also machine-understandable, e.g., tagging for computers. This is what the Web's founder, Tim Berners-Lee, has been talking about for a decade and what he calls the Semantic Web. Man, this guy is patient! He is currently shepherding one element of this vision, OWL (OWL Web Ontology Language), through the standards bodies. Others call this the Programmable Web.
- Finding a way to automatically integrate disparate data sources and application components. RSS feeds are great for public data streams, but the most valuable data (100s of times more than is available as RSS or as HTML) sits in corporate databases behind the Web. A new generation of tools, like Teqlo and Kapow (disclosure: Kennet company), are targeting this integration problem. The Web won't become an application platform until this type of integration ability becomes easy and ubiquitous.
The coming developments may be less exciting than the Web 2.0 bubble, but it will have more impact on both consumers and businesses in the long run. And investing in -- dare we call it this? -- Web 3.0 may require rather more patience.
[Thanks Oliver Widder for the cartoon: http://geekandpoke.typepad.com/geekandpoke/]