Where’s The Edge of the Web?

Today is a good day, because later this afternoon I'm sitting down with Tim O'Reilly, my partner on the Web 2 Summit, and spending a few hours with his team thinking out loud about themes and ideas for this year's conference (It'll be Oct. 17-19, in SF again). Last…


Today is a good day, because later this afternoon I’m sitting down with Tim O’Reilly, my partner on the Web 2 Summit, and spending a few hours with his team thinking out loud about themes and ideas for this year’s conference (It’ll be Oct. 17-19, in SF again). Last year (the third one) was amazing, but we all got the sense that Web 2 had gone mainstream. While we had a lot of innovators at that event, this year we want to focus on the edges – the place where the web has yet to become mainstream, or the places where the mainstream will once again be upended due to innovations on the margins. Our goal is to find and introduce those edges into the conversation this year. From something we wrote up to introduce the concept:

350Px-Xi At End Of Earth(image)

Where are the greatest opportunities, and the greatest risks? At the Web’s edge – the places where the Web is just beginning to take root: the industries, geographies, and applications that have yet to be conquered by the web’s wide reach.

For the past three years, the Web 2.0 Summit has explored ideas which have already begun to slip into the mainstream. This year, we’ll highlight news from unusual suspects- the enthusiasts and dreamers touching the edges of spaces not yet conquered by the Web, as well as established players who are looking to expand into new and previously unimaginable realms.

How is the Web infiltrating new beachheads in areas we never thought it could–or would? What are the majors doing at the edge, at the loony “ten percent time” at Google, in the labs at MSN, IBM, etc., that might inform entirely new applications, opportunities, even threats? What are the edge startups promising to redefine the center? What are the things we wish or know the Web can do, but so far, is failing us? What are the edges in terms of policy, politics, and morality?

This framing context came to me as I considered how long its taken the web to truly swallow and morph mobile, for example. Even traditional media of all kinds – books, movies, TV – has taken longer than most of us thought. But we’re also interested in new approaches to markets (S3 comes to mind), new areas of early lock in (Navteq comes to mind) or late market innovation (Flickr is a good early example of innovation in a space that seemed pretty crowded). And Tim has been thinking about this forever, as he said in this podcast:

We’re really in that stage with the Internet, where the Internet has become widely deployed and we’re now saying “Wow — what can we do if we really understand the power of the Internet?” And I think we’re not there yet, all the way there yet. And all this innovation is still exploring what gets better as it becomes networked.

One of the new models Tim notes is now possible, for example, is pay-as-you-drive auto insurance. That’s a pretty new idea…

I’ve always depended on your feedback to guide the process of programming Web 2. So will you help again? Where is the web’s edge for you? What might it be able to do that we have yet to accomplish? What early signs do you see? What aspects of our culture might the web never touch? Pls let me know in comments here, or in email!

PS – This is for the Summit, not this April’s Expo, which is shaping up really nicely! I’m interviewing a few folks on stage for that, including Eric Schmidt and Jeff Weiner.

15 thoughts on “Where’s The Edge of the Web?”

  1. A Coning result of 77% makes this post a really tight piece of thinking. Coning Technology uses natural language processing to understand meaning in text. Coning goes beyond key word search and gets down to the thinking quality in text. As we say ‘Write it; Cone it; Rate it.’

  2. re “Edge”: The Earth is something like 1/4 “settled areas” (land), right? I estimate that the web is about 1×10^-95 settled (give or take an order of magnitude — I figure about 1 googol domains per TLD, and maybe an average of 100,000 domains registered per TLD). It may be that the “settled area” will *always* be an infinitesimally small portion, but it does put the “edginess” into perspective.

    The meaning of the word “search” will *begin* to become transformed. More and more, “one-size-fits-all” engines will fall by the wayside. Perhaps the “leader of the pack” (of more “focused” search) was flickr.com — and others have followed (as people watching this space can readily attest). As these numbers (of engines) grow — from single to double (and more) digits — people will find it harder and harder to “keep up” (see e.g. http://www.battellemedia.com/archives/003349.php ). The “memex” will need to involve simple memnonics (rather than more newfangled brand names). Here, the “leader of the pack” will be sites like hotels.com, gifts.com, shopping.com, rent.com, movies.com and perhaps even a global “live” area. Each of these targeted “community” sites will develop advertising models that will reach more focused audiences than a generic “one-size-fits-all” engine.

    The hottest areas of development will be among those “publishers” who manage premium “titles” (and/or “portfolios of titles”). Much of the other stuff will (sooner or later) collapse like a house of cards — and the difference between “sooner” or “later” is simply a question of how much the vacuum that is left over will be obvious (or already “filling up” with more dynamic projects — with competitors such as hotels.net, hotels.org, etc.).

  3. Remember Eliza? The simple computer program that emulated a psychotherapist?

    My wife is getting her masters in counseling psychology. There are many schools of thought about how to be an effective counselor.

    Will someone create an effective online therapy tool that one can log into, interact with, and come away just a bit saner than before? That’s what most people seem to get from visiting their therapist for a large hourly fee. (Not that I want to replace my wife’s future income with Web apps!)

    There’s plenty out there to drive us crazy these days.

  4. Curious link Norbert ;-). For me, the edge is that many people who focused on providing content in one media, say books, will no longer view themselves as just “authors,” but as content producers. This means that for most it will be essential to have a blog, and even put together an intro video on YouTube. One’s “vocation” in terms of creating content will need to expand; it is no longer just one type of media.

    Likewise, the audience will need to be more fully engaged. So instead of content, say books, decided by an agent or editor saying “sounds good, I think it will be of interest, hers is a contract” the potential readers will be more involved from the get go. So you see an expansion of types of content offered and a more direct means of communication between content provider and consumers.

  5. 1 – THE OTHER THREE SENSES being virtualized……thus far, surfers are limited to Visual and Audio experiences on the web….there is so much more potential sensuality to be experienced

    2 – 3-D experiences without the monitor – imagine manipulating the air waves to give a realistic illusion of 3-D, and not having to be dependant on a monitor

    3 – Virtual Conferencing – Globally and in real-time. It is sad that in the 21st century, people are limited to travelling thousands of mile to visit conferences and expos – ……enough high tech is available so that exhibitors should be able to do live streaming to their websites of live conferences and have real time , global communication via IM or text messages with interested prospects who could not physically attend these shows.

    It is ironic that a Web 2.0 conference is not on the forefront of this hi-tech.

    4 – World Wide profiles Networking sites …imagine Social networking sites using algorithms that would introduce compatable people to one another – REGARDLESS of which part of the world they live in.

    There are so many more ideas……but it would end up consuming pages of replies

  6. Soren,

    very enticing — and/but a “search junkie” like me will probably forever focus on something like text (or some similar “standardized language”). Other file formats will always be in the territory of “art” and/or “avant garde” work — and will probably *never* be “machine readable” the way text is (just look at how far OCR has gotten after *decades* of research — and that seems to be a pretty straightforward exercise, doesn’t it?). Not that text (or “natural language”) is trivial — it certainly isn’t. But even though I haven’t seen everything, I am rather skeptical of having a computer like Capt. James T. Kirk had at our disposal — not in my lifetime (and I’m only 6 years old, right?).

    Can’t wait for those “scratch ‘n’ sniff” touchscreens, though….

    ;D nmw

  7. I am very interested to see how privacy and personal identification plays out in the future of the ‘net. For the majority of my time as a “surfer” I thought of the net as a very anonymous place but now it seems that as tracking becomes more and more sophisticated personal information will not be (never was?) hidden (i.e. Google turning over user information to Fox) . Will everyone have a digital fingerprint and will each web page that you are visiting have a side bar showing you who else is viewing the page. Basically, will we no longer be able to hide behind made up email addresses; and will the web become a place where personal responsibility plays a much much larger role.

  8. One “edge” of the web that comes to my mind the simple things that haven’t quite evolved completely on the Internet. Take a simple task like ordering a pizza. Will the majority of people maintain their mindset that ordering a pizza over the phone is “better” (quicker, easier, more accurate) than ordering online? It seems like these things were around back in 2000 but never caught on before the bubble burst. Now they are back, but I question the adoption rate. Humans are creatures of habit. So the edge lies somewhere in changing people’s habits…electronic vs paper…web/text vs phone/voice… Maybe some won’t change. Maybe the web isn’t ubiquitous enough for everyone?

    I attended the University of Cincinnati for some computer science graduate school courses. They have a concept they called “OneStop.” It’s the one-stop-shopping for all the administrative tasks on campus. The intriguing part is that OneStop is a web site and a building on campus. I’ve never researched this, but merging this concept onto a social network (and possibly other sites) could make a pervasive environment of computing and socializing.

    …I could go on but I’ll stop there before I explode.

  9. John,

    Thanks for engaging your readership on this question. From my own limited perspective as a marketer–not a techie–and an idealist, I see the main edge of the web as offering greater capability to make meaning and coherent pictures out of the many bits and pieces of the modern marketplace.

    Although collaborative technologies certain improve business process and social networking has the potential to increase our sense of interconnectedness, we can do better. At this point, the web is still largely horizontal–(nearly) anyone can join (nearly) any website and post (nearly) any kind of content.

    But what I am most interested in is the “vertical” possibility of the web: namely, its potential to facilitate the emergence of a more meaningful and whole culture. I can only imagine if the edge we explored was how we could come together and use technology to create a radically better world…


  10. Here’s the thing, John: “the Edge” is still the mainstream. If you’re in the silicon valley 2.0 heartland, or working directly in the web industry, that may not seem to be case; as soon as you step out of that rosy sphere, however, it becomes evident that the penetration of “web” ideals (1.0, 2.0, etc) is woefully superficial.

    I speak from experience – working at a global-scale financial services firm, having been tasked with leading the charge towards innovation and agility in consumer-facing products and their underlying business processes. This is no small challenge – it is a daily battle against creaky legacy systems, business processes built on 120 years of accumulated kludges, and regulatory and corporate governance restrictions.

    More than that, however, it is a battle against attitudes and ideas. You and I and your readers share a fundamental set of values – that control shouldn’t stifle innovation, that innovation & well-considered risk are good things, that nimbleness, flexibility, transparency, interoperability, and agility are fundamentally good characteristics. That smaller vendors can still deliver value (there’s other vendors other than just EDS or IBM, dammit!). Basically all of tenets of 2.0. These views, however, are not universal.

    On the contrary – many, many corporate denizens are still working in a pre-web world. For them…

    – technology is a means to speed up existing processes, but not a means to re-invent them
    – risk mitigation, control, and governance are organizational priorities
    – project management is a means ensuring control, not driving collaboration and creativity
    – innovation is something that a steering committee should get a handle on
    – communication is a formal exercise that needs to be conducted through channels – not openly or transparently
    – the web is a table-stake communication or service channel for existing products, but not a game changer

    That list reads like a case-study from 1994. But it is still truth for many.

    So – I’d propose this: examine how to truly take “enterprise 2.0” into the mainstream:

    – how can 2.0 ideas be reconciled with large enteprise needs for security and governance?
    – how can vendor relationships & agreements change to make small, entrepreneurial 2.0 vendors and flexible vendor relationships palatable to “legacy organizations”?
    – how does an innovator in a legacy organization speak to middle and senior management and communicate the value of 2.0?
    – how can the relationship between business and IT change to enable an enterprise to live and breath 2.0?
    – what tools exist to make all of this rubber-on-the-road instead of lip service? Tools may equal processes, methodologies, software, whatever.

    I know a lof of talk has taken place about enterprise 2.0 etc etc – but to date, most of it is really just talk. There’s a big gap between espousing 2.0 ideals and actually implementing them in an organization that’s 7 years away from SOA, governed corporately from another country, and composed of middle managers that have been in place since the seventies. To me, that’s the Edge. And let me be clear: these are not backwater companies in dark corners of the globe – this is where you bank, who manages your health care, who insures your home, who funds your retirement, who puts groceries on store shelves, and so on.

    The Edge = The Mainstream

  11. I agree with another’s comments on the “real time” issue. However, I see this in the future, although it may exist in the world with Web 3.0 or 4.0:

    More use of the mobile phone, although they will be computers, and be able to transmit/receive in real time over wifi. I imagine my infant son as a young adult being able to send me video feed from his cell phone device from another part of the world in real time.

    This will also change news media as we know it. KRON in the Bay Area is using video journalists (VJs) and in the future this will become the norm, not the exception.

    Personalization: I believe that all experiences on the internet will be highly personable. I won’t be getting ads for male ED drugs, but more likely receiving them from stores with cooking classes due to my recent purchase at Williams-Sonoma. As a marketer, I believe this could be a huge market for “local” since that is where we live and do in-person shopping.

    I see the privacy issue becoming resolved due to the personalization aspect mentioned above. I’m no techie, but I believe we will be not so concerned with identity as isp addresses on our computers could replace our names.

    Security for computers will still be an issue.

    Another issue that I do see as a concern is one of e-waste and recycling of old computer hardware.

    See you at Web 2.0 Summit and Expo!

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