“Web 3.0” is an IT buzzword that’s appearing with greater frequency among the state and local government IT community. Explanations differ as to what it means in terms of implementation, but the overarching concept is “machine-to-machine” communication on the Internet.

This means that in a growing number of instances, software applications — not the human end-users — will evaluate the usefulness of Web page content, online data and sensor information. Where Web 2.0 was about users contributing data manually and interacting with one another regarding that data, Web 3.0 is focused on applications that search on behalf of users for data that’s likely to be of interest. For instance, imagine Person A reveals his favorite recording artists on his Facebook account. Person B becomes a Facebook friend of Person A and later listens to one of those recording artists on Internet radio website Pandora.com. Having combed Facebook, Pandora alerts Person B that Person A likes that recording artist. Instead of Person B wondering if such a commonality exists and seeking out the answer, Pandora searches the Web and notices the commonality on behalf of Person B.

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If you think it’s becoming superfluous to distinguish between Web 2.0, Web 3.0 and whatever Web 4.0 ends up meaning, you’re not alone. The creators of the term “Web 2.0” didn’t intend to trigger this escalation of numbers, according to Jennifer Pahlka, executive director of Code for America, a nonprofit organization that places open source software programmers in city governments. Pahlka was part of the team at O’Reilly Media, a print and Web publishing company that formulated the Web 2.0 term in conjunction with its inaugural Web 2.0 Summit in 2004. The term was meant as a catch-all descriptor for the data explosion of “collective intelligence” that was transforming the way information was digested on the Internet.  

“They weren’t intending to put us in a position where every couple of years we’re trying to decide what version we’re at and who gets to determine what it means,” Pahlka said.

She thinks a catch phrase mentality motivates people who are anxious for specifics to zero in on only certain technologies. Pahlka said many different developments within the Web’s collective intelligence are progressing simultaneously and deserved attention. The IT world loves jargon, however, which means “Web 3.0” probably isn’t going away. The next step, of course, is asking, what will these new machine-to-machine technologies mean for state and local governments? 

Andy Opsahl  |  Staff Writer