Great click forward

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 30 December, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 30 December, 2008, 12:00am

For millions of internet users, surfing the Net can be a big headache. They have to click through page after page of Google search results in a frustrating quest - be it for the screening times of movies or finding the cheapest plane ticket to London - but in the near future, the Web will do it for us.

So say advocates of Web 3.0, who see a future Web in which data is organised so as to make it searchable by computers rather than humans.

To a certain extent, the Web 3.0 remains largely speculative, but its proponents say that by 2010 the internet will begin to enter a new era.

Nobody is arguing it will be an overnight revolution but, given the transformations the internet has seen over the past two decades, expectations for Web 3.0 - at least in certain quarters - are high.

The internet made its public debut in the mid-1990s.

This is now called Web 1.0, and involved dialling up first through 14K and 28K modems and later 54K modems, and often long delays in accessing low-graphic - often all text - websites.

Information flow was one directional - it was only possible to read or download ready-made content from the Web.

If Web 1.0 was passive reading, the emergence of Web 2.0 marked the beginning of a new era of sharing.

From networking and blogging spaces like MySpace and Facebook to uploading photos to Flickr and putting videos on YouTube, Web 2.0 has opened the creation of Web content to ordinary people.

Advances in technology hardware played a large part. Computers have become much more powerful, and we have much faster internet access. Social networking websites enlarge our social circles, Wikipedia represents collective knowledge, and Twitter - the micro-blogging site that provided fresh news almost every second during the Mumbai attack last month - demonstrates how fast and how far a single message can be spread today.

There are many projections about what comes next, but most point to an intelligent Web - a Web that would understand what it is we want from it.

The so-called semantic Web - one arm of Web 3.0 - for example, aims to enable search engines to understand the connections between key words.

Say you want to find a budget hotel in Hong Kong. At present, you have to browse through different websites to compare prices and locations in order to find the best option. But the vision of the semantic Web is to do this for you, reading and processing the data - price, availability, location - in the website and producing accurate results.

Some believe Web 3.0 will eventually evolve into a Web of data that stores all kinds of information about you. You could access your bank statement, photo albums or schedule without having to open various applications. It will know your personality and interests, remembering what food you like, tracking the bus you take to work every day, and informing you of the latest fashion trends or business news.

As we spend more and more time online, the Web is becoming a companion with whom we share our photos, our thoughts and our lives. In the near future it may become our personal assistant, guiding us to the nearest restaurant of our liking at lunchtime, or telling us it's time to run for the bus.