Web 3.0: The Web Goes Industrial
Web 2.0 is social: many hands make light work. In stark contrast, Web 3.0 is industrial: the automation of tasks displaces human work. But trite definitions won’t prepare us for change. Whatever you call it, our information economy is in the midst of an Industrial Revolution. And if you don’t place the Web within the frame of industrial manufacturing, you won’t see the real disruptive change coming.
This story reads much like the first Industrial Revolution. Artisans and skilled tradesman used to create everything by hand. Then, through the emergence of a handful of technical innovations, came the age of mass production. It was a profound turning point in human history, affecting every aspect of daily life.
Today, most content is still created by hand, the best of it by highly skilled artisans drawing on centuries of scholarship and experience. Recently, we’ve seen significant innovations in social approaches to content creation. But Web 3.0 industrialization takes content manufacturing to an entirely different level. Instead of users manually creating content, machines automate the heavy lifting. Consumers simply push the buttons and get stuff done. Think spinning wheels versus textile mills.
We’re in the midst of this Industrial Revolution right now. Billions are being spent worldwide on semantic technologies to create the factories and specialized machinery for manufacturing content. Railways of linked data and standards are being laid to allow these factories to trade and co-operate. And the most productive information services in the world are those that leverage Web 3.0 industrial processes and technologies.
Our company, Primal Fusion, is building one of these industrial Web 3.0 services. As an entrepreneur, I’ve ventured in Web 1.0, 2.0, and now 3.0. When I started in 1996, it took a team of highly skilled artisans many weeks to create a single website. Today, Primal Fusion enables individual consumers to build personal websites not in weeks or days, but in minutes, merely by brainstorming their interests. Accordingly, we’re measuring orders-of-magnitude productivity gains over Web 2.0 user-generated content models. (Note 1: Measurement)
This time, the Luddites among us won’t break the machines, but they will express skepticism about the quality of the content produced. Are machine-manufactured creations of a lower quality than those created by artisans? Of course, just like a mass-produced garment is of a lower quality than one that’s handcrafted. But who can afford handcrafted goods? The right question is whether consumers and producers can complete their tasks faster and cheaper than they can now. (Note 2: Examples)
And that’s the crux of this argument: The industrialization of content manufacturing is driven by the relentless pursuit of productivity advantages, not quality improvements. Once the industrial methods for manufacturing content reach a good-enough quality from the consumer’s perspective, the cost advantages will drive widespread adoption among consumers and producers alike.
This isn’t an apocalyptic vision, it’s just business. Productivity gains are steadily moving us towards consumer-directed, machine-powered content manufacturing. What many fail to realize is that Web 2.0 is far from the height of this model. In fact, it’s only the start. At what point will any consumer be able to push the buttons on the content-creation machines all by themselves? At what point will producers embrace industrial approaches and hand their customers the wheel?
So if not apocalyptic, this is certainly a disruptive transformation. Of course, highly skilled artisans are not going away, nor will their fine, handcrafted content. But demand will be affected, potentially marginalizing aspects of their services. However, this industrialization brings new opportunities, as well. Content professionals may choose to direct their skills to industrial methods, helping technologists design tools and developing innovative ways to include these tools in their services.
My colleague, Robert Barlow-Busch and I went to the Information Architecture Summit in Memphis last March to really dig into this topic. We presented an overview of how Web 3.0 technologies are disrupting the practice of information architecture (download slides, audio). There was also some excellent coverage of Web 3.0 topics by Chiara Fox from Adaptive Path and by Chris Thorne from the BBC.
So do people in the business of manufacturing content agree that we’re facing a fundamental change? Overall, I would say no. Many practitioners see Web 3.0 technologies as only tangentially relevant to what they do. They don’t view their work as manufacturing, at least not in an industrial sense, even as industrialists embrace these disciplines in the development of automated systems. (Note 3: Approaches)
But of course, if everyone saw this transformation coming, it wouldn’t be disruptive. At the upcoming Web 3.0 Conference in New York, we’ll be keeping this discussion going. I’ll be participating in a panel alongside Eghosa Omoigui, Alex Iskold, and Greg Boutin, to discuss the state of Web 3.0 and Semantic Web technologies. If you’re in the area, I hope you can attend. And as always, please share your thoughts and ideas below.
- We’re measuring these productivity gains across a broad number of areas, including consumer participation rates in content creation, the amount of content created per contribution, customer value in terms of eCPM pricing for content created, and consumer value in terms of page views of content created.
- A few examples of machine-synthetic approaches to content creation are listed below. Automated tasks include finding, selecting, describing, organizing, assembling, combining, and calculating content, all under the direction of consumers.
- Google News: A computer-generated news site where the articles are selected and ranked by computers.
- Kosmix: A “categorization engine” that organizes the Internet into magazine-style topic pages.
- Wolfram Alpha [site]: A demonstration of a “knowledge computation engine” that dynamically calculates facts in response to questions.
- Primal Fusion: Example of a “thought networking” website created through a semantic synthesis technology.
- There are many disparate fields that may intersect in the development of a Web 3.0 industrial system, including computer science, library and information science, cognitive science, interaction design, information architecture, and more.