Moving on from Web 1.0 in 2013

If you’ve only just got to grips with “Web 2.0” (or even if you don’t know what Web 2.0 is), you might be surprised to know that some internet thinkers are already describing “Web 5.0”. Well, they’ve got to talk about something, I guess. However, let’s try to see if there’s anything practical in all this.

The term “Web 2.0” was coined in 1999 to describe a type of website (already becoming more commonplace back then) which offered more interactivity, rather than just passive viewing. In fact, this was exactly the sort of place the web had come from in the first place, so it wasn’t anything that new. Although it did look more attractive. Social networking sites, self-publishing sites and collaborative sites such as Wikipedia were all part of the Web 2.0 movement.

After that, there are no widely accepted definitions of “new versions” of the web, at not least that I can find. However, if there’s a “Web 3.0” it’s what internet pioneer Tim Berners-Lee calls the “semantic web”, where the data is laid bare and we use it in the way in which we choose. I guess a site which is in some way personalised to the user is already heading down that path. Surely it can’t be long before it’s commonplace in business websites to see different information presented to new visitors, returning visitors and identifiable (e.g. logged-in) visitors? After all, it’s easy enough to do that today …yet how many of us do so?

If Web 3.0 is the semantic web, then “Web 4.0” might possibly be the “symbiotic” web (bear with me). I think this is where the web communicates with us instead of it being a one-way initiative. It’s more of a conversation, where you’re as likely to be told something pre-emptively as you are to ask for the information in the first place. You can see how some online retailers are already taking steps in this direction.

Is any of this academic discussion relevant to those of us with business websites to run? Well yes, in as much that it reminds us how archaic a “brochureware” online presence is in 2013. Having an interactive presence, perhaps through using social networking, is merely the 10-year-old Web 2.0 idea, yet for many businesses it’s the height of sophistication. Tailoring your online presence to the user is still a pipedream for most companies, yet it’s not exactly new technology. What it’s going to take to keep up with the competition is an acknowledgement that a company’s internet presence is not “just another bit of marketing” but a core component of the whole operation. But maybe that won’t happen until the generation which has grown up online becomes the senior management.

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