The Future of Web 2.0

I’ve been in Singapore this week, giving presentations on Web 2.0 and helping the government’s Infocomm Development Agency with their plans to foster startups in the country. I often get asked about the future of Web 2.0–is it a bubble, when will it be replaced by something new? Fortunately we’ve done a lot of work on this at the O’Reilly Radar lately, and I’m able to lay out a clear vision of the future for them. It goes something like this …

2004: Web 2.0 coined, the movement named.

2006: “You” named TIME Magazine’s “Person of the Year”, a tribute to Web 2.0.

2007: You are here.

2008: Firefox 3.14159 ships (those geeks at Mozilla just won’t be able to help themselves, and the resulting flamewar and developer resignations over whether to call it “PiFox” or not will lead to it being dubbed “PyreFox”). This version adds offline support to Ajax web applications. People will want to call the result “Web 3.0” but that term was claimed in advance by the Semantic Web so the blogosphere will quickly decide to call this Web 2.86 but the period will be quickly quickly lost (to the condemnation of purists) and the media will refer to “Web 286“.

2009: Semantic web researchers develop a deductive calculator that solves arbitrary problems using the math knowledge encoded in the web. It would be heavily adopted by school children to solve their homework but it will require the problems be expressed in TeX markup and the only papers to have been expressed in the format will be from a obscure Russian grad school that specializes in the geometric expression of information theory results in Riemann spaces. The imminent arrival of Web 3.0 will be predicted.

2009: The fascination with widgets leads Firefox 4 to integrate with the native operating system’s desktop to offer a new cross-platform widget environment. Out of respect for the diligent workers still building the Semantic Web, it is agreed that we’ll reserve “3.0” for their work. Bloggers skip that number and go straight to Web 3.1.

2010: Semantic Web developers release a new XML format. This will be hailed as the final step to the completion of Web 3.0.

2010: The growing proliferation of complex user interfaces built with Ajax, Flex, and anything else web developers can get their hands on will lead to growing calls for standardisation. The W3C will fail to be able to do this, but a consensus API and widget set from the leading Ajax toolkits will emerge and be implemented by Firefox 5 and then, several months later, IE 12. Because it’s almost 100% of the way to Tim’s vision of the Internet Operating system, he’ll argue (and win) that it should be called Web 95.

2011: Semantic Web researchers will unveil a game that tricks kids into adding tuples to an RDF data store. Despite being hailed as the gateway to Web 3.0, all that will result is the world’s most complete database of Pokemon characters.

2012: The clandestine Mozilla thin client system will launch–an entire bootable platform, built on Linux, that only exists to run the web server. The war over whether it should be GNOME or KDE will have been settled by producing two versions, which hampers adoption rates initially. Finally the two projects will be forced to merge or kill the best chance they have to overthrow Windows (“2011 is the year of the Linux desktop”, headlines will pronounce) and the GNODE (as it will be known)-powered Firefox 6 will sweep the world. Headlines pronounce Web 98.

2013: A long delay will pass without much innovation, during which time Firefox 6 will achieve near-complete market penetration before the arrival of malware targeting it. The Mozilla team, caught between bug fixes and new features, will struggle to finish Firefox 7. Their solution will be to acquire Opera and release it on top of OpenSolaris as an “Enterprise-ready Firefox”. The resulting fragmentation of the web (thought to be over after IE 13 was retired when Microsoft turned into a pure services company in 2012) results in chaos. Mozilla will promise but never-deliver a web portability tool dubbed “No Trouble”, and in its honour wags will dub this era “Web NT“.

2013: Semantic Web researchers will unveil a new RDF database for Java 6 Enterprise Edition (“Raging Marmot”). Parties will be thrown in honour of the arrival of Web 3.0.

2015: Mozilla will EOL their Opera line, integrate the few remaining features they liked into Firefox. To win back the faith of their users, they’ll invest heavily in designers and UI specialists. The resulting focus on user experience will cause this incarnation of the web to be known as “Web XP“.

2020: After many years of development and malware fighting, Mozilla will drastically revise downward the feature set for Firefox 7. They’ll skip version 7, and release “Firefox X”. X will support RSS for blogs, IM, twitter, and the new communication system that flashes updates from your friends every 2 seconds in yellow on black 64pt type as you work. “Crack”, as the system will be called, will be so addictive that it drives sales of Firefox X through the roof (the Mozilla Corporation will have burned through its cash reserves attempting to get Firefox 7 out the door and must consequently put a price tag on X). From the profits and resulting IPO Mozilla will launch the Mozilla Benevolence Fund, dedicated to solving disease, eliminating hunger, and spreading warm fuzzies in the third world. Within six months, the body count of Crack users found dead in the glow of their screens (unable to leave because of the addictive sense of connection provided by Crack) will turn public opinion and Wall Street against Mozilla but the genie is out of the bottle. As the corpses stack up in city streets, the professional time-wasting class known as Knowledge Workers will have been eliminated from the world. We’ll return to a hunter-gatherer-like society in which the strong survive and the weak are feasted upon. As civilization crumbles, bards will proclaim we are able to see into a new world that’s free of offices and cities, a world where mankind lives in rolling green fields and cloud-filled skies. In honour of this view of the world, the bards proclaim the age of Web Vista.

2022: The last Semantic Web researcher announces a Sudoku solver that operates on RDF-expressed puzzles. The failure of the last functioning laptop (a milspec Pentium from 2008) is all that prevents the arrival of Web 3.0.

(Update: Closed comments Aug 1, 2007 due to spam)