Web 1, 2, and 3

Along the cutting edge of online are three schools of thought that roughly parallel the eras of Internet development: Web 1.0, Web 2.0, and Web 3.0.

The Three Web Eras

If you don’t understand the exact definition of those terms, the first thing to know is those decimal points are meaningless (there’s no such thing as Web 1.3, for instance). When marketing hype is eliminated, the eras are simply Web 1, Web 2, and Web 3.

Web 1 began in the early 1990s, when the Internet was opened to the public. The technologies needed to put content online were expensive and required a fair amount of technological expertise to use. That meant most of the online content back then was from such organizations as media companies, businesses, universities, and governments.

Early in this decade, those technologies’ costs and difficulties ultimately dropped so low that almost anyone could now publish or broadcast online. That change spawned the current era, Web 2 (define). It’s hallmarks are the participative, or social, Web; the blogosphere; social networking; citizen journalism; peer-to-peer systems; and the like.

Meanwhile, starting around the beginning of this decade, World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee and other Internet scientists began constructing Web 3. Its purpose is to allow people’s devices to talk to each other, so users don’t have to hunt and gather information on the Internet. Instead, Internet devices and servers will simply deliver all the suitable information the user wants to his Internet-capable device. Although Web 3 hasn’t yet fully manifest itself and probably won’t until early next decade, early Web 3 sites, such as EveryBlock, Phorm, and LoudonExtra.com, are beginning to appear.


Terming Web 1, 2, and 3 as eras is probably inaccurate because, unlike geologic or historic eras or periods, Web 1, 2, and 3 all exist simultaneously.

Ninety percent or more of all media companies and an even higher percentage of businesses are pursuing an online school of thought called convergence, which is based on Web 1. With this school of thought, we add audio and video to text and still photos or text to audio and video, in the hope that doing so will make traditional media companies and businesses viable in this new century.

This strategy, sometimes disparaged as “shovelware,” has worked somewhat well for businesses, governments, and B2B (define) media companies, but it’s clearly flawed for B2C (define) media companies. The Web sites of B2C media companies pursuing this strategy are used markedly less often and quite less thoroughly than are those companies’ dying traditional media products (Nielsen Online recently reported the average user of “The New York Times” Web site used it only 4.05 times per month and spent only 20 minutes reading 27 Web pages on that site all month).


A second school of thought views Web 2 as the solution to the B2C media problem. It says that traditional B2C editors and reporters long ago lost touch with what most consumers care about and that B2C media will become more relevant and appealing to people in this new century if the people themselves report the news and information, or at least assist professionals reporting it. This is citizen journalism, social networking, and crowd sourcing. Pioneers of this school include Dan Gillmor, author of “We the Media,” Jeff Jarvis of BuzzMachine, and Jay Rosen of PressThink.

Desired Content

Meanwhile, a third school of thought states that, though multimedia and convergence are necessary, as are forms of citizen journalism and social networking, the central reason print and traditional broadcast B2C media have been declining in use and get infrequent visits online is that this traditional B2C content, its packaging, or even its marketing isn’t what consumers want. Simply adding multimedia to such content or having consumers compose it themselves isn’t the answer. This school states the B2C content’s traditional topics are the problem, they aren’t relevant or interesting to people. As my college’s dean says, “The traditional definition of news isn’t correct, simply because fewer and fewer people use it.”

This Web 3 school of thought says a new type of B2C content or content packaging needs to be hyperlocal, mass-customized, or both. This school includes permission marketing advocates and seems to include such pioneers as Adrian Holovaty, Seth Godin, Rob Curley, Sandeep Krishnamurthy, and Robert Cauthorn.

Which school of thought is correct?

They all are, though their pertinence in the 21st century probably increases according to their numeric order. All media and businesses nowadays must be multimedia, following the convergence strategy of Web 1. Likewise, all media and businesses must now include the Web 2 hallmarks of the social Web as integral parts of their strategy. Yet all media and business must rely more on consumers.

Two quick examples.

The first is when people in a community wonder what’s happening when they hear their town’s firehouse alarm ring. The Web 1 solution is to publish a professionally reported story, with audio, video, and text, once the alarm is over. The Web 2 solution is to provide a forum for citizens in the town to speculate immediately about what’s happening. The Web 3 solution is to do all of those things, plus wire the town’s 911 response reporting systems to local media companies’ or the municipality’s Web sites so people can immediately and accurately know what’s occurring.

The second is in marketing a new product. The Web 1 solution is to have a professional review a product. The Web 2 solution is to have its users review that product. And the Web 3 solution is to do both, plus find a way for the product to be tried and tested by anyone who reads those reviews.

It’s as simple as 1, 2, and 3.

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