What does Search mean for Web 3.0?

By Buck Dossey, Associate Director, Client Strategy & Development

The original title I wrote down for this article was the antithesis of what’s above: What does Web 3.0 mean for search? As I was researching this question, I quickly realized that it is not Web 3.0 that will define what search experiences are like, but rather search which will define what the Web 3.0 experience will be like.

So let’s take a step back for a moment and think about all the progress that’s been made over the course of the last several years. We have gone from everyone scrambling to hire anyone that knew any level of HTML in order to get websites created and published, strict limits on email inbox sizes, and pop-up ads galore.

The Context Effect

Then MySpace came around and you could actually contribute to a website. Certain websites like Match.com had allowed people to create and manage profiles for years, but there was something different about MySpace that changed the game. That game changer is what I refer to as the Context effect.

The reason why MySpace became the first brand that reached everyone (albeit everyone within my generation) was that for the first time web users could connect to each other and display those connections to anyone visiting their profile page. In addition, profile pages were customizable and thus attractive to you if you believe you are unique (just like everyone else). Self expression finally had a home online that was easy, customizable, and reflected real life.

Enter Facebook. Facebook’s rise came somewhat after MySpace, their initial exclusivity to only college students with an.edu email address made them instantly the cool place to be. Facebook also didn’t let you mess with the layout of your profile page, which puzzled many folks like me who were used to having to labor through layout after layout for their MySpace profile.

But Facebook changed the game, and they did so by making it about quality personal connections rather than flashy (and slow) profile pages. When you take a step back, this strategy actually makes a ton of sense. In life, happiness comes from the quality of your relationships with people who matter to you, not how you express yourself superficially.

Click to view larger image.
Facebook vs. MySpace Unique Users Over Time

Facebook and Beyond

Today, the scene is set for the next revolution. MySpace’s star has started to fade, while Facebook continues to rise. Facebook’s gamble on personal connections and quality of content is more valuable than MySpace’s glitz, only to give rise to a more important challenge: making sense of all the information available, and doing so in a way that is personally relevant to each individual user.

So let’s bring the idea I mentioned earlier back to the fore: the Context effect. MySpace succeeded early because they made their site about self expression in the context of one’s real, offline life. Facebook took the context effect to the next level, and honed their user experience based on several different layers and types of context built on a platform of content quality.

The next phase of the web, or Web 3.0, will take this idea of context and make better, more relevant content more easily accessible to web users. The first evidence of this is found in a product called Facebook Connect.

If you’ve never heard of it, it’s simply a way for websites to talk to each other and share information. What makes it interesting is that Facebook is allowing websites to interface with it to use your information (opt-in only) to make your web browsing experience more relevant. Let’s say you are interested in buying that snazzy VW Jetta with a Diesel engine featured on Mythbusters this week and you’re checking out an auto-sales website that has 5,342 comments on it.

How do you sift through all that information?

Web publishers have for a while enabled users to promote better content over poorer content, but with Facebook Connect, those comments could be filtered to show just the comments from people in your personal network. This is the Context effect in full force. Rather than show you comments from the world ad nauseam, only the content that is attached to people with whom you have a personal relationship with is shown, giving you an instant gauge on credibility.

Facebook Connect will also enable websites to identify Mavens and Influencers within a relevant community and allow them to get these folks into the fold. Because websites can recognize how connected you are through Facebook Connect, they’ll be able to evaluate how they should sculpt your user experience.

The Facebook example is a great way to see the way that Context (as defined by Facebook and participating websites) is shaping our online experience today.

Web 3.0: Your Personal Internet

The Context Effect will be the hallmark of Web 3.0, and it’s actually well underway already. Google Personalize Search is one such implementation, which serves results based on user behavior. Search Engine Land has a good article by Danny Sullivan talking about Google’s efforts to increase its relevance and usage.

Google Web History tracks every search query you’ve put into the search engine since the product launched (assuming all necessary requisites like having and being signed-in to your Google account and whatever else I don’t know about).

While Facebook honed the Context-based success of MySpace, search engines will utilize input from every user to deliver customized results. This takes the Context effect to the next level. It integrates your entire web experience from search engine to website and back again into a customized experience based on what’s important to you and your needs, as dictated by your personal network and search queries.

The web has come a long way so far, and continues to develop and innovate at a break-neck pace. The amount of information is so great that an additional layer of information filtering is needed to make the web experience more relevant. The context of your personal needs and your personal life will dictate your entire experience online, making the web smarter, faster, and more relevant.


Copyright © 2008 Resolution Media, Inc. All rights reserved.