Technology (both Hardware and Software) is full of “version numbers”. For example: I use an iPhone 8, running iOS 12.1. I’m writing this blog on a computer running Mac OSX 10.13.6, using TextEdit 1.13. Often, we are on the lookout for new version (and their new version numbers), because they might have “cool” new features, or patches to problems in old versions. Often, we are also reticent to install a new version, because it might not be sufficiently tested, and might have unexpected bugs.
The Internet, or World-Wide-Web (WWW) or simply the “Web” is also a giant collection of hardware and software. It is continuously evolving, and unlike OSX or TextEdit, it has not explicit version numbers or releases. On the other hand, it is possible to look at the Web as a whole, and observe various characteristics that can be compared to what the web was 5 or 10 years ago. It is also possible to identify what characteristics might be desirable for the web, and encourage builders of hardware and software to implement these.
In this article, I share a short list of “characteristics” that might be desirable for the future web (which I call “Web 4.0”). Like iPhones or OSX, I consider these “desirable” because A) they add new functionality to the web, and B) fix bugs in the current version.
However, before that, let us review the previous “versions” of the web.
Web 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0
The term “Web 1.0” is a “retronym”; it was invented retrospectively contrasting it to “Web 2.0”. Web 2.0 enhanced Web 1.0 principally in the following ways :
- Producers and Consumers: In 1.0, there were few producers of information, and (relatively) many consumers. In 2.0, with the advent of social networking provides and low cost web hosting, the number of produces also significant increased.
- Static and Dynamic: In 1.0, content was static. In 2.0, there was more dynamic content, with consumers able to comment and interact directly with the content.
While there is no universally agreed upon definition of Web 3.0, it is trending in the direction of a “collective intelligence” made up of billions of devices and humans connected in a single intelligence whole . That is, while 2.0 was made up of many independent systems, 3.0 will form a collective whole.
I’m going to list my characteristics “comparing and contrasting” it to the current web (which is probably best described as a mix of 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0).
- Centralization to Decentralization: Web 3.0 is increasingly dominated by a small number of big players (e.g. Google, Facebook, Amazon), who individually own massive “collective intelligences”. This is not optimal for several reasons, including the fact that a small number of humans don’t have the creativity to make the best use of a large amount of data. Hence, Web 4.0 should have a much freer distribution, and a more egalitarian ownership of data and distribution. One obvious way of making this happen is through decentralized apps, with private ownership of data.
- Optimization to Sub-Optimization: The most interesting problems on the web involve applying artificial intelligence to ranking and prediction problems (e.g. Google Search, Facebook Newsfeed, Amazon Product recommendations). One danger of this approach is that it channels large numbers of humans to behave in such a way to optimize a few numbers (e.g. Google Search Clicks, Time Spend on the Facebook Newsfeed, Amazon Sales). This is a problem because, while the “numbers” might make sense, the emergent human behavior is difficult to predict. “Sub-Optimization” could solve many of the behavioral bugs of Optimization. By “Sub-Optimization” I refer to a sub-optimal form of optimization which results in more predictable behavior. Example of “Sub-Optimization” include randomization, “fair” ranking methods (like simple time ranking), and biasing results to encourage psychologically optimal behavior.
- Web to Meta Web: Despite the huge impact the web has on our lives, there is relatively little study and education about it. For example, while most schools teach children how to read, play sports, and cross the road safely, few teach child about the web and how to use it. In Web 4.0, I hope there is a lot of retrospection and education about the web, and a corresponding enlightenment and education.
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