Every now and then we are drawn to the idea of predicting the future. And of course, most of the time we are wrong. But this does not stopping us from trying. So here I go with some thoughts on what I think will be a game changer in the near future.
Before going into the juicy parts (I hope) let’s have a look at what has been happening in the Internet and devices world for the past five years or more.
First of all, there is what became known as “Web 2.0”. A scholastic definition would be: “Web 2.0 is commonly associated with web development and web design that facilitates interactive information sharing, interoperability, user-centered design and collaboration on the World Wide Web. Examples of Web 2.0 include web-based communities, hosted services, web applications, social-networking sites, video-sharing sites, wikis, blogs, mashups and folksonomies. A Web 2.0 site allows its users to interact with other users or to change website content, in contrast to non-interactive websites where users are limited to the passive viewing of information that is provided to them.” [source: Wikipedia].
Examples of Web 2.0 sites include: YouTube, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Wikipedia, and Flickr. If you look at what you do as part of your daily routine, chances are that you spend time on such sites, because they bring value to you. At the end of the day you are not using these sites because you are paid to, you do because it helps you to stay informed, share information with others, find very specific info, or stay connected with acquaintances. If you don’t believe me, I dare you to take on the following exercise: try not to use sites like these for a week or more.
But what about devices or the “things” we use to consume/produce digital content? I think these devices have changed a lot lately, and that we are only at the beginning of this change. There used to be a time when the following formula was true: device = software that you can use with that device. You’ve bought a particular brand of computer and OS because your primary interest was in creating documents, or houses, or magazines, and so on. As the software and hardware commoditized it became less and less important what computer you bought. Now, with Cloud / Software as a Service trends, the hardware platform and OS is even less important. Instead, I think, it is more and more important to be connected to the Web. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a laptop or Smartphone, you hardly can do your work or stay in touch with friends and family while disconnected.
The past is well known, but what about the future? I do think that there is immense value in what the Web 2.0 sites bring to our life, and these apps are here to stay. Of course they will improve over time and new features will “revolutionize” the world yet again. However, no matter how good they might be, we as people experience a big rift between the digital world (all these sites and services) and the analog world (what our naked senses feel from what lays in front of us). I mean, there are two completely separated worlds. But from the point of view of me as a human being who uses information from both worlds to do my daily activities, they are not at all separated and I don’t see why they should stay like this. In fact, if we combine these two worlds (from the point of view of how the information is presented and consumed) we will get to the next level, and the sum will be far greater than the value of them separated. And this level I would call Web 3.0, although this term might be too restrictive.
What do I mean? I’m talking about Augmented Reality. The most natural way to combine these two worlds is with the help of a hardware device that can layer on top of the reality the information retrieved from the Cloud, from your accounts on various sites. This could be some glasses or whatever; the idea is to have a way to visualize the information that come from the Cloud in relation to the context of what you, as a human living in the world, see and do at a particular point in time and space.
Imagine you are on a train and you meet two persons you know. The device, using face recognition can pull out the names from your address book, the notes you might have on them, can check their LinkedIn profiles and Twitter/Facebook/Flickr accounts and you might see something like in the next picture:
Or maybe you are walking down a street in Rome. Using the information from Google Maps, the system can give you recommendations for lunch or breakfast, depending on the time of the day and your personal preferences for food and beverages. You could have marks imposed on the street image to guide you to the Coliseum and then to a Chinese restaurant, and the phone number of the restaurant in case you want to make a reservation for two persons. And while visiting the Coliseum, information about the site is pulled out from Wikipedia.
And my favorite one would be to remind me all the
important anniversaries and make suggestions based on what my wife is talking about on Facebook with her friends. This would be awesome :).
And if I were a big Advertising Network, I might give the magic glasses away for free, because I could use them to place targeted advertising when the consumer wore them. Similar to Google Ads for Internet searches, the glasses would display the relevant sponsors for the area you are in.
Of course this idea is nothing new. There are some scientific research projects dealing with these concepts. At the same time, I think with each year that passes the urge to have something like this grows stronger. I experience deep frustration when I have to research or find more about a person, site, or book and I am not able to connect to the Cloud because I don’t have the computer with me. You might say that a Smartphone will work, but I have the feeling that this is a dead end in the long term.
The rich information and excellent usability you get on a laptop is almost impossible to get on a Smartphone. And it will always be, because it uses a reduced display to present the information. And even if someone comes up with a display that can be folded in order to be portable but at the same time provides decent real estate, it still presents the same rift between the two worlds. There is simply too much value in the ability to augment what you see with all the information available in the Cloud and the personal preferences you express whenever you comment on something or someone. Until the PDA/Smartphone is able to impose the digital on top of the analog in a simple and effective way, I am afraid my vision about the next big thing after Web 2.0 will not be possible. Thus I think Smartphones must reinvent themselves and in the new form, probably, the phone features will be the least important feature for its user. And if the phone feature becomes just a tiny bit of the overall value, it means that the carriers as they exist today have to reinvent as well or die.
Thinking of the current devices, the closest to what I imagine is the GPS device and, especially, the ones that warn you about traffic jams ahead of you. Pretty far from the magical eyes, isn’t it?
What do you think? What does your Web 3.0 look like?