Beyond Social Networking: After Web 2.0, What Will the Next Generation of Websites Look Like?

Almost every late-generation website has embraced the same recent interface (UI) trends, sporting slick AJAX- and DHTML-generated interfaces, and most offer their users community-driven features like user ratings and content-creation tools. Some, like Prosper, Youtube, Facebook, eBay and Wikipedia, have or will become bellwether sites as they discover novel ways to empower consumers.

Some may even participate in taking the web to the next plateau by breaking through the walls separating one site from another. For, as amazing as the web has been at linking people together to accomplish great (or at least impressive) things, it has mostly failed at creating communication links between websites, leaving the web ocean filled with myriad islands.

It is a logical progression. First portals and search engines revolutionized the web by their grand success in linking documents; then social networks altered the face of the Net by linking people. Now, new technologies promise a third revolution by forging new links between websites.

These technologies, as represented by projects like OpenId, the Data Portability Project, and Microformats, are devoted to standardizing and facilitating information exchange so data can be easily ported from site to site. Think, for example, at the personal level, of the convenience of creating or updating your profile across all your personal networking sites using a single form. This kind of data portability, plus a new, shared philosophy of openness among web players, is beginning to create these website linkages, leading to an almost perfect fluidity of data on the web.

Mashups are of course one of the first manifestations of this fluidity. Using the web as a platform, mashups leverage available APIs (application programming interfaces) to combine data from multiple sources to create new services on existing websites. Consider, for example, a site that combines mapping data from one site with yellow pages information from another to create a rich directory not available on either source site.

This trend toward open exchange will only accelerate. As a first consequence, computers will become true “digital assistants,” providing a web experience that will become more and more personalized for everyone (with everyone simultaneously becoming more and more tuned in to privacy concerns).

Following this line of thought, we can seek the next evolution in the next kind of link being built. It is in fact already being built around us. It is an even deeper link between people arising from the convergence of personal communication and Internet access devices. The mobile phone will soon serve as the primary way to be online, with any time/anywhere connectivity thanks to the persistence of wifi/wimax connections, allowing for a ubiquitous yet even more personalized and more useful experience.

The next step will be the link between web applications and real life objects, with more and more objects being connected to the Internet (think of cars with GPS systems and “smart” household appliances connected to the Internet for remote management). Simultaneously, connected devices will play an increasingly active role in data exchanges. Think, for example, of your mobile phone not just providing GPS data to a web application in order to direct you to a local restaurant, but also (knowing your music download history and the community forums to which you subscribe) communicating your love of music as part of your profile, with the result being you are automatically steered to a restaurant with a live pianist at lunch.

And following on the heels of links between web applications and real life objects will be links between the objects themselves. What happens when your mobile phone, your TV and your smart car get together (with each other and their peers) to talk about you? Who said scary?

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