Practical Ecommerce

Basic Definitions: Web 1.0, Web. 2.0, Web 3.0

“What do people mean when they talk about the Web 2.0?” is a query we receive repeatedly, and probably has as many answers as the number of people out there using the term. However, since talk about the Web 3.0 has surfaced in the last year or so, a whole new level of confusion seems to have set in. In an effort to help people understand the ideas behind buzzwords like Web 2.0 and Web 3.0, let’s go through what exactly these terms mean (if anything), and how they apply to your ecommerce business.

A broad definition

I want to make it clear at the start that this article is meant to be a broad definition of the challenges that cause people to think in terms of Web 2.0 and Web 3.0. Since these are buzzwords and not clearly defined terms, think of this as an attempt to provide a bird’s-eye view of the ever-changing lay of the land on the web. In an effort to create discreet “versions” of the web that can be compared, I will borrow from the W3C Director Tim Berners-Lee’s notion of the read-write web, which is often used as a way of explaining what Web 2.0 means.

The first implementation of the web represents the Web 1.0, which, according to Berners-Lee, could be considered the “read-only web.” In other words, the early web allowed us to search for information and read it. There was very little in the way of user interaction or content contribution. However, this is exactly what most website owners wanted: Their goal for a website was to establish an online presence and make their information available to anyone at any time. I like to call this “brick-and-mortar thinking applied to the web,” and the web as a whole hasn’t moved much beyond this stage yet.

Shopping carts are Web 1.0

Shopping cart applications, which most ecommerce website owners employ in some shape or form, basically fall under the category of Web 1.0. The overall goal is to present products to potential customers, much as a catalog or a brochure does — only, with a website, you can also provide a method for anyone in the world to purchase products. The web provided a vector for exposure, and removed the geographical restrictions associated with a brick-and-mortar business.

Currently, we are seeing the infancy of the Web 2.0, or the “read-write” web if we stick to Berners-Lee’s method of describing it. The newly-introduced ability to contribute content and interact with other web users has dramatically changed the landscape of the web in a short time. It has even more potential that we have yet to see. For example, just look at YouTube and MySpace, which rely on user submissions, and the potenital becomes more clear. The Web 2.0 appears to be a welcome response to a demand by web users that they be more involved in what information is available to them.

Many views of Web 2.0

Now, it’s important to realize that there are a staggering number of definitions of what constitutes a “Web 2.0 application.” For example, the perception exists that just because a website is built using a certain technology (like Ruby on Rails), or because it employs Ajax in its interface, it is a Web 2.0 application. From the general, bird’s-eye view we are taking, this is not the case; our definition simply requires that users be able to interact with one another or contribute content. Developers, for example, have a much more rigid definition of Web 2.0 than average web users, and this can lead to confusion.

This in turn leads us to the rumblings and mumblings we have begun to hear about Web 3.0, which seems to provide us with a guarantee that vague web-versioning nomenclature is here to stay. By extending Tim Berners-Lee’s explanations, the Web 3.0 would be something akin to a “read-write-execute” web. However, this is difficult to envision in its abstract form, so let’s take a look at two things I predict will form the basis of the Web 3.0 — semantic markup and web services.

Semantic markup refers to the communication gap between human web users and computerized applications. One of the largest organizational challenges of presenting information on the web is that web applications aren’t able to provide context to data, and, therefore, can’t really understand what is relevant and what is not. Through the use of some sort of semantic markup, or data interchange formats, data could be put in a form not only accessible to humans via natural language, but able to be understood and interpreted by software applications as well.

While it is still evolving, this notion — formatting data to be understood by software agents — leads to the “execute” portion of our definition, and provides a way to discuss web services.

Web 3.0

A web service is a software system designed to support computer-to-computer interaction over the Internet. Web services are not new and usually take the form of an Application Programming Interface (API). The popular photography-sharing website Flickr provides a web service whereby developers can programmatically interface with Flickr to search for images. Currently, thousands of web services are available. However, in the context of Web 3.0, they take center stage. By combining a semantic markup and web services, the Web 3.0 promises the potential for applications that can speak to each other directly, and for broader searches for information through simpler interfaces.

What’s important to understand, I think, is that the nomenclature with which we describe these differing philosophies should not be taken too seriously. Just because a website does not employ Web 2.0 features does not make it obsolete. After all, a small ecommerce website trying to sell niche products may not have any business need for users to submit content or to be able to interact with each other.

Most importantly, you don’t need to upgrade anything, get new software or anything like that. These are abstract ideas used to contemplate the challenges developers face on the web in addition to theories about how to address them.

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Brian Getting
Brian Getting
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Comments ( 18 )

  1. Legacy User April 19, 2007 Reply

    Hey Brian,

    Sramana Mitra has developed a compelling definition of Web 3.0, and differs on the viewpoint that Semantic Web would be the essence of the next generation of the Internet. Please read this: Web 3.0 = (4C + P + VS). And for a series of examples, you can see her analysis of the Personal Finance category from a Web 3.0 perspective.

    — *Sumitra*

  2. Legacy User April 19, 2007 Reply

    <a href="http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/web_30_4cpvs.php">Great link</a>, Sumitra. She does a great job of outlining the challenges of the web, and how we need to look at facing them. However, I think that our viewpoints go hand-in-hand with regard to the kind of interoperability that she describes in her formula:

    Web 3.0 = (Content, Community, Commerce, Context + Personalization + Vertical Search)

    To put it in the context of what she envisions, in order to get the applications that power everything to be able to communicate with each other, some sort of semantic markup will be required. Machines can dish out content, handle community interactions, and even provide commerce experiences. However, they lack context, which is what semantic markup (like RDF) attempts to bring to the dance. With the introduction of context, all five of her other ingredients change dramatically.

    Take her example of being a petite woman with dark skin and dark hair, and a very finicky sense of style. There are already mechanisms available for her to Personalize a site to her preferences, whether it be a community site, a content site, or an ecommerce site. However, right now these fragmented systems cannot communicate with each other, so there is no way for contextual information to be passed between them.

    In my eyes, this is the biggest hurdle for developers. How do we make it actually work?

    — *Brian Getting*

  3. Legacy User April 19, 2007 Reply

    Oh Gavalt. Most of us are still confused about Web 2.0. Now we're going to hear about Web 3.0. Mamma Mia!

    — *Ed*

  4. Legacy User April 20, 2007 Reply

    All this labeling of Web x.x is a bunch of junk. They are all just websites with different features. Buzz words to sell more articles. When something truly different comes out mainstream, like Virtual Reality, then give it name.

    — *Hogan*

  5. Legacy User May 8, 2007 Reply

    I totally agree. These labels are just tech guys trying to talk over peoples' heads. Well, I get it and I still think it's useless! This is really not worth the effort of even thinking about. To anyone who is confused on this subject: DON'T BOTHER! Spend your time on other issues.

    — *William Ely*

  6. Legacy User May 21, 2007 Reply

    I can see how the web developed from the definition of Web 1.0 ->2.0 ->3.0. Looking forward to the RWE version becoming universal.

    — *Jane Weng*

  7. Legacy User May 31, 2007 Reply

    Ed: "All this labeling of Web x.x is a bunch of junk. They are all just websites with different features."

    …and then there are platforms. Any one site could not possibly be 'Web 3.0' or even genuinely 'Web 2.0' for that matter. That's the point and if you don't get that now, then you never will.

    See you in 1994 when VRML hit the scene. Think-tanks at NASA and all around the world have "been there, done that" and moved on to Web 4, 5, 6, 7. They pulled back on these 'truly different' efforts a decade ago to give computing power a chance to catch up. SecondLife is Cosmo Browser's great grand-child.

    You might as well be waiting for the discovery of America while you're at it.

    I'm not a 'tech guy' just a 'guy who knows a thing about the Internet'.

    William: "Spend your time on other issues." I couldn't agree more, be on your way now.

    — *Chris Olszewski*

  8. Legacy User June 6, 2007 Reply

    Hogan said:
    "All this labeling of Web x.x is a bunch of junk."

    I completely agree here. Tim Berner Lee the founder of the internet has mentioned already (wikipedia) that Web x.x has got nothing new in it. All the standards in Web x.x are already covered in W3C. This is just another techno-babble hyping jargon.

    — *Falafulu Fisi*

  9. Legacy User June 1, 2007 Reply

    Excellent description by Brain and even good clarification by Sumithra.
    We shouldn't be stereotyped or hypocrites try to evolve………..evolution is the fact.

    — *abhisujay*

  10. Legacy User August 10, 2007 Reply

    +1
    But semantic web is definitely the next step, so why not naming it ? 3.0 is fine :)

    — *Cyno*

  11. Legacy User December 27, 2007 Reply

    There is nothing new or special in web 2.0 or 3.0. Its all about constructing the application in such a way so that it is most usable / user friendly. E.g. Putting big buttons on form or attracting user by the means of color / group / shape / size are all already proven studies.

    Its only some tech savvy marketing persons, selling their company product by using such jargons….

    Cheer!!
    Abhi :-)

    — *Abhishek Rastogi*

  12. Legacy User January 24, 2008 Reply

    Good article!!!

    — *Saurabh*

  13. Legacy User March 27, 2008 Reply

    So I guess this site I worked on in 1999 was already Web 2.0:

    http://www.saleslinks.com/sideline/apr-jul99/06v1.htm

    The reader comments at the bottom were posted manually from emails, but the technology to do so was certainly available and widespread.

    — *Matt C.*

  14. Legacy User March 27, 2008 Reply

    From one perspective, "Web 1-2-3" may not have a lot of relevance, but in other contexts it is useful to distinguish between them because they do involve different technologies, capabilities and – most importantly – have implications for VERY significant differences in the structure and handling of data by servers and on the client side as well.

    — *Brian*

  15. Legacy User April 10, 2008 Reply

    hey Brian ,
    superb explanation of web1.0, web2.0 and web3.0.
    If anyone wants more information on the same then this link would be of help

    http://www.computerworld.com/action/article.do?command=viewArticleBasic&articleId=9013518&pageNumber=1

    — *prasad*

  16. Legacy User June 3, 2008 Reply

    1- Every technology in the history of human being saw a change in its development with the passage of time. We termed these changes as a new generation of that technology, like with the invention of Personal Computers, we termed them a new genetation of Computers. Later on we tagged them P1, P2, P3 and so on, depending on their speed and other efficiencies. Likewise web also experienced these obvious changes in its framework and operation. So with the introduction of new milestone in this respect we tagged them Web 1.0, Web 2.0 and web 3.0 (or sementic web). So there should not be any ambiguity in this respect and we should not say these are marketing terms.

    Thanks
    Usman Muzaffar
    Bagh, Azad Kashmir. Pakistan
    usmanmuzaffar15@gmail.com

    — *Usman Muzaffar*

  17. parthpatel2010 July 24, 2009 Reply

    I am new here and sign in because of your greate explanation of web 1.0 2.0 and 3.0 , i am really looking for this type of example based material. You are doing greate please keep it up.
    Thank you very much! tomorrow i have interview regarding web development

  18. Hal Dunn August 11, 2012 Reply

    Web 2.0 was/is all about user-generated content: Such as YouTube where you upload your own videos. Facebook, where you provide your own comments and photos. Or Wikipedia, where anyone can edit content. The buzz I’m hearing now is that Web 3.0 is all about catering to the mobile user.

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