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web 3.0/xWeb

In PLENK2010, there has been some great activity on week 3 discussion of the extended web (xweb). I’ve posted on this on the connectivism site. During a live session in Elluminate, Janet Clarey used my definition (“xWeb is the utilization of smart, structured data drawn from our physical and virtual interactions and identities to extend our capacity to be known by others and by systems”) as a starting point for discussion in her presentation. Some felt that the term was ego-centric, others felt it had limited application to learning, and some wondered how xWeb differs from Web 3.0. I’ll try and clarify the distinction in this post.

Tim Berners Lee has a helpful overview of the next web on TED Talk – a web of linked data. In many ways, this vision was captured in his original paper on Information Management: A proposal from 1989. Essentially, links no longer just point to sources, but the links themselves have meaning. The basic premise of the semantic web is the removal of the ambiguity that exists with data so that computers can function more effectively by being able to distinguish different meanings of data.

Linked data is a sub-category or building block for the semantic web: “Like the web of hypertext, the web of data is constructed with documents on the web. However, unlike the web of hypertext, where links are relationships anchors in hypertext documents written in HTML, for data they links between arbitrary things described by RDF. The URIs identify any kind of object or concept”. Linking Open Data Cloud Diagram reveals the full glory of complexity of this concept.

Web 3.0 and semantic web are synonymous – Kate Ray has done an outstanding job capturing how leading proponents (opponents) see web 3.0. Questions remain as to the viability of the semantic web and the prospect for linked data. After all, people and organizations need to be willing to share. Organizations such as UNESCO, UN, OECD, and governments have started embracing the open data movement.

Opening data is only a start. People need to be willing to adopt formal language/structures in organizing information. Making sense of and organizing the data is a more difficult task. The nuances of word/terminology use and fluctuating contexts present substantial challenges. As one commentator (Shirky?) noted in Ray’s web 3.0 video, the semantic web attempts to squeeze people into the web, i.e. people don’t think and behave in the structured manner required of the semantic web, so if the web can’t be shaped to function as people think, then people must be shaped to function as the web operates. Human thinking and meaning-making are not machine-processable. Cognition is too messy and too contextual.

While the scope provided by proponents of the semantic web may be too large, the organization of information can be helpful in organizational or contextual settings where word meanings don’t exhibit dramatic fluctuations. Within a company context or culture, certain words and concepts hold reasonably consistent meanings. The semantic web might be more useful (especially ontologies) when used within some boundaries or a clustered entity – at least for now. Tremendous progress needs to be made in understanding word use in different contexts and in different cultures before (if) the semantic web will be usable broadly by all members of society. Until then, the semantic web will do very nicely for things that lend themselves well to categorization and bounded spaces where knowledge can be reduced (represented) to (by) ontologies.

The eXtended web, or xWeb, benefits from structured, linked data. Unlike the semantic web, which most people will benefit from but will never see or directly interact with, the xWeb has a direct impact on users. Essentially, the xWeb is a blurring web, reducing distinctions between physical/digital worlds through mobiles, location-based services, augmented reality, internet of things, and digital graffiti (i.e. comments by Foursquare users on physical locations such as businesses). The xWeb is the web extended into the physical world where our context, our profile, our previous interaction with information and others, and location are symbiotically related to (they impact and are impacted by) our search or information foraging activities.

Concerns about privacy are understandable when information silos are crossed and the online and physical worlds are blurred. I made a statement in the meeting that we are getting to a point where we no longer need to find information, but information will find us because we are known by software (Google does this already by adding location, our search history, and our social circle to search results…similarly, Hunch uses our self-declared interests and preferences to customize search). This prompted Paul Ellerman to create this lovely diagram of the creepiness factor information seeking people. As more and more of our data is explicit (captured and held for analysis), software should be better able to analyze our previous activities and use that as a basis for providing us with relevant and needed information. Maybe we will eventually get to a point of technologically externalized knowledge and learning.

Web 2.0 is about participation. Web 3.0 is about linked data and the semantic web. The xweb will have a far greater impact on individuals than web 2.0/3.0. Not everyone is a blogger or contributes videos to youtube or edits wikipedia. However, a growing percentage of the population uses the mobile web. Web 2.0/3.0 are a promise of change. The xweb is an instantiation of change, an expression of how technology can alter how people relate to each other, to information, and how the physical world becomes yet another domain for technology to dominate.