Earlier today I went to the symposium at the Darklight Film Festival entitled “Web 3.0: Where Next for the Internet?” I’m just starting to get my head around what Web 2.0 means for me and others in business, but I reckoned that it would be no harm to keep an eye on what’s around the next corner.

So I went hoping to learn a little about what Web 3.0 might mean, only do discover that what I really need to get to grips with is in fact “Web 3D”. A 3D web is an “all-pervasive experientially immersive” web. The example was given of a schoolchild that wants to learn about the planet Mars; they will log on to the web, search and read various documents, look at images and maybe videos on Mars. They may even talk to others online to find out more. This is where we are now. The child of the future will be able to “experience” Mars. The Internet will enable them to visit the surface of Mars (virtually); look around, move around, feel things and even feel the effects of lighter gravity. This will all be made possible by the convergence of applications and new input and output devices. We will move on from web browsers, LCD screens, mice and keyboards to virtual worlds with wireless receptors embedded in our brains. “Organic technologies” will become commonplace.

In the world of the future it was postulated that the virtual and the real will converge. Already the real is represented virtually, but increasingly what is happening in virtual reality is spilling over into concrete reality. Participants in Second Life for example can sell virtual objects for virtual money which can subsequently be cashed-in for real US Dollars. Our world of the future will be a complex blend of the real and the virtual. While today we can easily tell the difference between what is concrete and what is virtual, this will not be so easy in the future.This may not even be something that we think about too much as the next generations are likely from birth to live in a such blended world.

Personal identity will become even more confused in the future. Currently the 9 million Second Lifers have an average of 1.7 avatars (virtual representations) of themselves. This figure is expected to grow to 5 in the coming years. In both the virtual and real worlds it is suggested we will all be able to change our personas (and even our genders) as easily as we change our clothes.

I got a strong sense that the discussion was focusing on what the Internet might be like forty to fifty years hence, and even at that there was plenty of scepticism from the audience that what was being propounded was ever likely to happen. There was some attempt to bring it back to the next couple of years but that seemed a bit too mundane for the panel. Given that the context was the film festival, the discussion did not focus for too long on what any of the changes might mean for businesses, except for a brief discussion around how creatives can go about monetising digital content. The term “freemium” was introduced to describe the business model whereby what is unlimited is given away free in order to promote sales of what is limited. Radiohead giving their album away free online was seen as a way to promote their concerts, which, of course, you had to pay top dollar to attend. There was a rather glib, if true, remark that people will always find ways to make money out of the Internet. The difficulties often for businesses is in identifying where the opportunities lie in this constantly shifting landscape.

I think it would be worthwhile trying to put together a similar forum as this Darklight symposium, but for a wider audience and perhaps looking a little less far into the future. Web 3D seems a long way off, and there will be a lot of change over the next few years that we should be pre-empting.

No one asked the question about where do we want the web to go… all the talk was about where it is going. No one asked is what is being mapped out good or the right direction for us to take. There is an inevitability about all this. And perhaps we also need to grapple with these question.

Was talking to Roseanne briefly afterwards and she pointed out how the panel was noticeably missing any women. Perhaps this is why the discussion did not stay grounded in concrete reality for very long…

Photo by Clydeye (Creative Commons)