Web 3.0

Written by on

My favorite definition of web 2.0, which I believe I found on the Wikipedia article but doesn't seem to be there anymore, went something like this: "Web 2.0 applications assume that a user is familiar with, and knows how to use the internet."  

Meaning, these applications make certain assumptions about what users already know how to do.  The creators of these applications then were freed from needing to teach users certain things they might have felt obligated to teach them 5 years earlier. I love this definition because it focuses not on the technology, but instead on the technical literacy of internet users.

What then, is Web 3.0, and what does it look like?

Most of the definitions I've read have come by way of the Wikipedia article on web 3.0, seem to focus on the technology.  They include predictions about how geo-coordinates come into play, new screen technology, virtual displays, content created by computers as opposed to humans, and other things likely to be seen in the future. While these may indeed be the future of the internet, I don't believe they accurately define web 3.0. Instead, I actually think web 3.0 has already arrived. Like the definition of web 2.0 that I mentioned above, I prefer to think about web 3.0 in terms of what assumptions we can make about  the users of the applications we are making, how that impacts what we make, and where we focus our creative energy.  Here's how I like to define it:

Web 3.0 applications assume that a user already has specific web assets, and they provide users with the ability to build upon and expand these assets.

As design gets better, and interfaces become more and more intuitive, it can be tempting to think that the lesson is to assume users are less computer savvy, and to treat them as such.  I think that approach is a mistake though.  Users are becoming smarter, not dumber.  In fact, users are smarter now than they every have been, and they will continue to become smarter.  And of course, we're also learning more about how humans interact with technology. There are a number of great examples of web 3.0 applications, but I'd like to focus on two. Formstack, which I've written about before, is a huge inspiration to me.  The reason is because while their core offereing is completely unsexy (online forms), they are at the forefront of what the internet is becoming.  They assume that their users have other web assets.  Whether it's a website, a blog, or something else, they make it easy for people to put their forms INSIDE their own web assets.  And, they assume their users might also have an email provider, a CRM system, and maybe a merchant account too.

If you make a product and assume that your users don't have a website,  and wouldn't know how to embed things into their web pages even if they did, you end up with a very different product than a company that assumes their users have websites and do know how to use embed code.

Both can be great products by the way, it's just that one is a web 3.0 application and one is not.

Another great example of a web 3.0 application is ifttt.com - which stands for "if this then that".  Their entire product is based on the assumption that their users have OTHER web products.  Their application allows users to easily hook things up without having to write any code.  For example: "if someone uploads a file to my dropbox account, then send me a text message."  It's a very cool app that's bringing programming logic and thinking to users without the need to write a single line of code.

The opportunity this presents, and of course the challenge too, is to identify the web assets that our users are already likely to have, and to create things that work well with those assets.

I've been thinking about this a lot lately because we\'re working on some big new features for our yoga studio software and we\'ve made a few key decisions based on the fact that I want it to be a web 3.0 application.  These assumptions include:

* Our users already have websites, and they want these websites to maintain their current aesthetic.
* Our uses would prefer to have control over their customer\'s credit card data, instead of us having control of this information.
* Our users will either know what an API key is or we will be able to teach them what an API key is.\r\n* Our users will be able to "hook up" our application to their payment provider by using API keys.

These are not trivial assumptions to make about users.  And for some users we'll be wrong, and that's okay, because I want to try and skate to where the puck is going to be.

I firmly believe that web users are becoming more intelligent, not less.  Certainly, they will continue to demand a clear, easy to use interface. But the systems they use to run their businesses and their lives will become increasingly complex, and their toolsets will become increasingly fragmented.

Hooking together applications, either via API keys, usernames and passwords, or some other means, will become as commonplace as downloading apps and creating blogs.  Identifying and integrating with the assets that your users have, or would find useful if they don\'t already have them, is the future of user experience design.

And as web 3.0 applications begin to take over, people will choose products not based on how many things they do, but by how well a product does the one or two things they need to be done really well, and whether it fits in neatly with the other tools they already have or are thinking of using.

The opportunity this provides is amazing because it allows application makers to focus like a laser on a nitch that they can be awesome at, and then hook into other systems (or allow other systems to hook into them) that they might not have as much domain knowledge about.

The long tail is only getting longer. It turns out though that as users, we have multiple tails we need to connect.  

Applications that connect, and that can be connected to, enabling users to create their own systems - that is web 3.0 to me.

It's already here, and it's all around us.