The Implications of Web 3.0 on the Strategy and Vision of Businesses

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Many companies are just coming to grips with Web 2.0. This "upgrade" has been costly for many organizations in terms of training, realignment to changing market demands, associated hardware and software upgrade requirements, as well as other related impacts. Despite the recent growing pains, however, organizations must begin preparing for the fast approaching third version of the Web. Currently, there are many predictions about what this next major release will entail, but most agree that it will center on cloud computing, mobile devices, increased bandwidth capabilities, and something called the semantic Web. Though the features included in Web 3.0 are important, the actions that businesses take in preparation for its inevitability are just as critical if not more so. As Marshall (2007) of Search Engine Journal claimed, the eventual ability of computer programs to sift through mountains of data and intelligently present pertinent results to their users will require businesses "to have a better understanding of who their target audience is, what they want, and how they think about what they want." The impending incantation of the Web will dramatically affect businesses' spending, strategies, markets, resources, and day to day operations; it will even render some businesses obsolete. If organizations fail to plan or postpone preparations, when the third version of the Web is fully realized, they may be too late to satisfy unmet customer needs, capitalize on emerging trends, and seize new opportunities. 

Many are predicting that we will eventually be surrounded by computer terminals of all sizes and shapes. These portals will grant us access to the Web where we will use it to do many of the same things that we use it for today. We will do some of these things differently, however, and will utilize this new version of the Web to perform currently unthinkable activities. These conduits to the Web might be things like flat screen displays built into tables, car stereos that learn your tastes by connecting to on-line databases and stream the results to your auto, and cameras built into amusement park rides that send photos of riders to email addresses encoded in their admission bracelets. Enabling these types of things will require these "dumb terminals" to connect to some larger machine with sufficient computing power and storage. This model is reminiscent of the mainframe era except that, as Kelly (2007) prophetically pointed out, the reinvented mainframe is a single computer that spans the entire earth. This gargantuan super computer is the result, Kelly said, of connecting so many PCs, handhelds, cell phones, notebooks, and servers. Using these interconnected machines as a single super computer will provide computational capabilities necessary to enable currently unimaginable applications. This radical, sci-fi-sounding notion is referred to by mainstream media and techno-bloggers as cloud computing because the interconnection of computers is done via the Internet which is often described as a cloud.


Though Web 3.0 is only here today in nascent form, this fundamental part of it is already available from an increasing number of service providers including Amazon, Google, GoGrid, IBM, Microsoft, and others. These businesses have created data centers of machines and sell access to them. Most use a per-use payment model where consumers are only billed for the minutes that computers are allocated to them. These armies of worker machines are available to anyone via the Internet. The availability of an almost limitless amount of storage and computing power available on a pay-per-use basis is a phenomenal game changer. As Nelson (2009) suggested, "[u]sing the network as your business platform is really interesting in terms of helping to level the playing field between large and small businesses" (as cited in Chan, p. 18). Startups no longer require capital investments to purchase the computers necessary to compete with larger, established market leaders. By taking advantage of this new paradigm, organizations can be "more effective and efficient" in many aspects compared to those who use established approaches to IT Nelson goes on to say.


Many large established corporations are leery of cloud computing though. With a lot to lose, they are reluctant to accept the associated risks. The advantages are significant; however, the fall from grace is far. As large enterprises seek to remain relevant though, they must take this paradigm shift seriously; they need to begin investing in R&D, training, and pilot projects to overcome the inherent risks associated with cloud computing. They need "to examine [themselves] closely, measuring the risk against when and where cloud computing can be effective," Schwartz suggested (2008, p. 11). Everything, he predicted, "will eventually be available as a cloud service" though not every resource a business has to offer "will be accessed from the cloud" (p. 11). Now is the time for large enterprises to begin determining which of their assets should be accessible from the cloud and which should not. Nelson suggested that this new computing phenomenon will be utilized by "the large enterprises, even with the regulatory concerns in the equation" (as cited in Chan, p. 18). If their acceptance comes too late or not at all, however, smaller companies enabled by the leveling quality of cloud computing could potentially uproot them from their current positions of dominance.


Though these cloud terminals will be pervasive, there will be times when we do not have immediate access to them. Unable to tolerate even the briefest moments of interrupted access, consumers will drive the invention of innovative mobile technologies that will keep them constantly connected. These handheld computers will form a major component of Web 3.0. Devices of unimaginable sizes, shapes, and designs will connect us to the cloud, allowing us to do amazing acts that will further revolutionize our culture and way of life. The transformative impact of Web 1.0 and 2.0, as profound as they were, will be dwarfed, I believe, by the impending tsunami of portable devices that is about to wash over humanity.


By connecting to the cloud, devices will have enhanced capabilities far beyond what they have been able to do thus far. This tie will allow them to combine the Web's data with real life. The information and computational power of the Web will be coupled with the telephones, cameras, camcorders, microphones, GPS receivers, compasses, keyboards, and styluses embed in mobile devices. "Forward-thinking brands have to come to appreciate that more [people] will consume digital content via mobiles" insisted Woods (2008, p. 37). It is imperative, he urged, that companies "start thinking beyond the PC-based internet experience" (p. 36-37). This marriage of mobility and the Net will result, as Kelly said, in an embodiment of the Web. Many "artifacts" in the natural world, he predicted, will have some form of "webness" in them. This combined with a further proliferation of cloud-connected handheld devices will create a 4th dimension of sorts wherein the physical world is combined with the Internet to create a new reality. Two examples of this today are Enkin for Google Android mobile phones and Microsoft Tag.


As Web 3.0 approaches, we will see a dramatic increase in broadband speeds. By many reports, the average American downstream broadband speeds today are less than one megabyte/sec. For example, a company called In-Stat polled 700 high speed Internet customers at the beginning of last year and reported that the average download speed was 3.8 megabits/sec or 0.475 megabytes/sec. Reid (2008) said that the Web's next version will include "connection speeds comfortably in excess of 10" megabytes/sec (p. 14). This one order of magnitude increase will have a revelatory effect on what and how originations are able to conduct their businesses. This speedup will allow companies to transmit large datasets like video and voice as never before. This phenomenon may allow consumers to perform searches verbally via mobile devices, participate in video conferences using portable tablets, or watch HDTV on cell phones.


The last aspect of Web 3.0 (covered in this paper at least) is its ability to be mined by computer programs for information that can be presented to users in a more intelligent manner. This capability will be made possible by the reprogramming of Web sites to include standardized data that can be read and interpreted by machines. Using this additional code, machines will be able to understand not only what the page's content is (as in Web 1.0 and 2.0) but what that content means. This additional level of interpretation is why this aspect of Web 3.0 is referred to as the semantic Web. All search engines to date have used what van Harmelen (2007) refers to as "location finding rather than information retrieval." Current, mainstream search engines find places on the Web and organize them based on "keyword matching, keyword density, and ranking," says Marshall. Given a query, the search engine presents the user with a list of locations that it believes best satisfies the search. It leaves the last and most critical step to the researcher: determining which of these locations actually have the pertinent information being sought.


The semantic Web will change all this. It will dramatically reduce the amount of time we spend performing "location finding" and also change how we search for information. The amount of time we spend researching as we do today will be reduced, and autonomous search agents will perform queries for us, presenting results in various contexts. These programs, Woods predicted, "will make the internet seem more intelligent [by] extracting knowledge that other people put into it in a way that looks intelligent" (2008, p. 35). As Marshall foretold, the result will allow researchers, consumers, and businesses to "more easily find products and services that provide precisely what they need." This will force brands, as Marshall also said, to know exactly who their customers are and what they want.


As we move into this era of increased technological sophistication, businesses will be confronted with immense challenges and opportunities. Thriving will require advanced hi-tech abilities; however, it will also demand that every organization clearly define its mission and vision by continuously answering the following questions posed by Drucker (1967): "What is our business;" who and where is our customer; what is he buying; and what does he consider value (p. 77, 80, 82, 83)? By continuously answering these questions and planning early, businesses will ensure that they remain relevance and successful in the era of Web 3.0.





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