In October 2009, internet experts Tim O'Reilly and John Battelle held a summit in San Francisco to unleash their new term ‘Web Squared'. Five years ago, the first such summit started the Web 2.0 ball rolling, and as a potential successor to Web 2.0, the Web Squared concept should demand at least a little CIO attention.
To a large extent, Web Squared is the collective intelligence aspect of social networking fused with what has become known as ‘The Internet Of Things' and based on the MIT-initiated notion that any object can become a network device. O'Reilly and Battelle provide more detail in their white paper Web Squared: Web 2.0 Five Years On. This explains how the ‘Squared' label signals an exponential growth in online activity as collaborative applications are increasingly fed data by cameras and other online sensors.
One of the implications of more objects getting online is that companies will have a lot more data to manage and mine. The Internet Of Things will grow as more objects and people are recognised by cloud applications that will process real-time feeds from cameras and microphones and integrate them with other data. Users will be able to see relevant data overlaid on objects, buildings and people when viewed on their mobile phone displays or even on car windscreens. The first-generation augmented reality browsers Layar and Wikitude are hinting at the potential, and no CIO should be unaware of the pending demand for those real-time data feeds on which augmented reality will depend. Just as all firms need a presence on the web, all objects associated with a company will have to be visible in augmented reality.
If the data shadows of The Internet of Things are collaboratively and openly shared we'll also be able to reap crowdsourcing benefits similar to those of social networking. Satellite navigation devices, for example, will be able to advise on routes based not only on internal maps, but also the position and predicted intent of all other vehicles on the road.
A level up, Web Squared is also about the application of internet thinking beyond computing. The idea is that new managerial and political philosophies which champion openness, transparency and many-to-many collaboration will be essential in solving global problems such as peak oil and climate change. Indeed, as O'Reilly and Battelle conclude, "Web meets world. That's Web Squared".
So is Web Squared likely to take hold? Or is it just another gravy-train for O'Reilly and Battelle? Initially, I thought the latter. However, given the time I spend trying to convince people that Web 2.0 is about web services and software as a service in addition to social networking, I have to admit that the idea of a new label is attractive.
When my book Cyber Business was published in 1995, most people were telling me that the mysterious two-million-user network called the internet was not about to change the world. But they were wrong. The internet has not just changed the world but has become our planetary nervous system. Web Squared picks up this idea and gives it a label. Whether the label will survive is debatable but whether the concept is right is indisputable.
My gut instinct is that with Web Squared, O'Reilly and Battelle have captured very well how the internet is evolving both technologically and culturally. As a new term to put some clear blue water between cutting-edge reality and the Facebook-and-fancy-graphics view of Web 2.0, I hope that the term does gain popular acceptance. I hope it also prompts debate about the role of the internet in our lives and the broader application of the thinking that has made the web what it is today.
Over the past decade, all of us involved in computing have had to constantly expand our horizons. Where once many vendors and support staff only sold and serviced desktop servers and PCs, today they also sell and service cameras, music players, and all manner of mobile devices. In signalling that things are to join people and computers online, and that Web 2.0 thinking has conceptual applications beyond the computing industry, Web Squared is, if nothing else, a useful reminder that all of us from the CIO down will have to expand our horizons further still.
About the author:
Christopher Barnatt is Associate Professor of Computing & Future Studies in Nottingham University Business School and the author of ExplainingComputers.com