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Web 3.0: Powering Startups to Become Smartups


If you are a Web-based technology startup focused on the 2.0 version of the Web (a.k.a. Web 2.0), then you are not thinking outside of the box anymore. The Web is constantly evolving: innovating and implementing new technologies; adapting in a more timely manner to user feedback and needs; redefining the roles of business partners; and pushing the boundaries of what is possible.

This is the first article in my four-part series about powering startups to become smartups. You can find the timeline for future installments of my series at the end of this article. If you’re still beating the Web 2.0 drum then you are not thinking outside the box. You’re missing the larger picture and bigger opportunities.

The intent of this first installment is to whet your appetite, to give you a broad overview of the criteria and trends that I believe are shaping the next evolution of the Web. As such, these are the defining opportunities and challenges that Web 3.0 present to the startup community.

But before we focus on Web 3.0, it’s important to step back and look at why Web 2.0 became boxed in.

The Box Factory is Not Your Friend

The problem with metaphorical boxes is that they often expand. What once used to be considered out-of-the box thinking, can become the standard way of thinking, of operating. What once used to be considered innovative, becomes common place.

Whereas Web-2.0 thinking may have been revolutionary, out-of-the-box thinking three or so years ago, the box has expanded to encompass almost all Web-2.0 players.

What does this mean? It means that if you are still beating the drums of Web 2.0, more than likely, you are now squarely in the middle of the box and the lid is starting to close. Whereas you may think your ideas, products, and services are innovative, you may be myopically missing the larger picture and the bigger opportunities. Why? Because you are not evolving with the Web.

So, how do you escape the ever expanding metaphorical box? How do you breakout of Web-2.0 thinking?

The answer is simple in concept. You need to stop thinking like a Web-2.0 startup. Instead, you need to power up your startup to become a smartup (thanks to Kingsley Idehen for the term and genesis of this idea).

If you truly wish to be a Web visionary, then thinking outside the box is not sufficient anymore. Instead, you need to think outside the factory that makes all the boxes.

Web 3.0 != Semantic Web; Web 3.0 > Semantic Web

Web 3.0 is the current out of box-factory thinking. It is the next phase in the Web’s fast-paced evolution. However, it is not something with which most startups are truly familiar.

The phrases Semantic Web and Web 3.0 are often used interchangeably, thought of by some as synonyms. But Web 3.0 is more than it’s underlying technology.

Whereas the foundation of the 3.0 version of the Web is the linking of data into a structured, machine discoverable and understandable Web of Data, this is just one aspect of Web 3.0. From a user’s perspective, the most salient aspect of Web 3.0 is the Social Web—an emergent property of a properly designed, built, and interconnected Web.

This article series will discuss the technological underpinnings of the Web of Data which makes possible the Social Web. But it will go beyond just discussing the linking of data. It will provide an overview of the other facets of Web 3.0.

In the accompanying charts, you will see my working vision of what Web 3.0 will encompass—from its general trends, to its backend dataspace, and finally to its business environment. Within the criteria I describe, I believe there are evolutionary–and some revolutionary–shifts that can clearly be defined from Web 1.0 to Web 3.0.

It is likely that other people may have additional criteria which they judge as integral parts of the overall Web 3.0 version. My grid is by no means all encompassing or complete. These are the primary criteria and shifts in thinking and operating that I believe are the beacons in the 3.0 version of the Web.

Note: The Evolving Web Paradigm grid is
available as a PDF.

The Clock is Ticking

The obvious question to ask is, When will Web 3.0 come to fruition? The answer, however, is not clear.

Nova Spivack has a perfectly-reasonable approach to classifying the ages of the Web. Nova conveniently places the Web versions into eras, into decades. So, the third decade of the Web (Web 3.0) has already begun.

But Web 3.0 will come about in stages, with some criterion being met well before others. I believe Web versioning is a punctuated process with big strides toward evolving the version made over short periods of time. It will take a few periods, a few bursts of advancement, before the fully-actualized version comes to fruition. Thus, some of the promises of Web 3.0 are currently being implemented but much of the full vision has yet to be realized. This is why I somewhat jokingly state that I work in the Web-2.5 space.

Whereas 2010 does indeed mark the beginning of the third decade of the Web, we still have a ways to go before version 3.0 of the Web comes to fruition. By pushing your startup past the now-tired cliche of the Web-2.0 meme and striving to think, innovate, and behave like a Web-3.0 company, you can power up your startup to become a smartup.

Comments or Suggestions?

My Web 3.0 framework (The Evolving Web Paradigm grid) is a working concept. If you think any element is incomplete, inaccurate, or missing, please post a comment below, contact me via Twitter, or send me an email. As always, I appreciate input and honest debate.

Future Installments

The smartup series is a four-part five-part article series. The currently available installments are as follows:

Part 2 (Now Available) — Web 3.0 Smartups: the Social Web and the Web of Data

Part 3 (Now Available) — Web 3.0 Smartups: Moving Beyond the Relational Database

Part 4 (Now Available) — Web 3.0 Smartups: the New Web Business Space

Part 5 (Now Available) — Building the Social Web: the Layers of the Smartup Stack

Related Post

If you are interested in getting me involved in your smartup, please read, How to Get Me Involved in Your Smartup.

Article Comments

  1. Henry Story says:

    Nice article. Two points:

    I think the Social Web is in the Web3.0 category. In the Web 2.0 area it’s called Social Networks. You can’t have a web if it is not fully distributed.

    I’d say wer are closer to Web 2.9 now than to Web 2.5. A lot more people are accepting the semweb stack, and I hardly hear any criticism. With Drupal 7 coming out soon with a very advanced semweb stack, Google and Facebook publishing rdf, it’s clearly on the horizon.

    • Jeff Sayre says:

      Henry –

      Thanks for the thoughts and the catch with the term Social Web. I agree completely. In fact, that is exactly what I stated here in my article, A Flock of Twitters: Decentralized Semantic Microblogging. I’ll correct my grid!

      With respect to what point-release version of the Web we’re currently at, it more than likely is past the 2.5 version but I think it is not quite yet 2.9. You may have noticed that I begin my Twitter bio with “Web 2.5, 2.6 whatever it takes.” The point is that Web 3.0 has not yet materialized but we’re moving in that direction—and fast!

      Perhaps it is time to increment my bio to start with, “Web 2.7, 2.8 whatever it takes.”

  2. Don’t forget to mention the role that sites like Kickstarter will play. We recently saw the tremendous power that sites like these can have in the 3.0 Smartup movement (e.g. Diaspora raised over $200,000).

    • Jeff Sayre says:

      Paul –

      Thanks for the comment. This is exactly the point to be made in the last part of my smartup series. I do plan to cover briefly entities like Kickstarter.

  3. 1) Phases and decades of web evolution has been described since commercialization, if not before.
    2) Start-ups would be served very well by learning from serial entrepreneurs who made the same mistakes before they were born.
    3) Success hinges much less on enthusiasm (or money) than on modeling and partnering intelligently.
    4) Supply and demand and hyper competition are worthy of deep understanding.
    5) Success is usually found where the herd is not.

    .02 — MM

  4. Great stuff, Jeff. I’m sharing it with some startup founder friends. One is a Web 3.0 company (Inveni) coming out of stealth next week at the midVentures event in Chicago. Are you attending? They’re concurrently announcing at TechCrunch Disrupt the same day in San Francisco.

    Look forward to reading the rest of your “Smartup” series!


    • Jeff Sayre says:

      Graeme –

      Thanks for the comment. I will be out of town during next week’s midVentures conference. I would love to attend, even present, at this conference in the future.

  5. […] Web 3.0: Powering Startups to Become Smartups (tags: startups web3.0 web data semweb venture angel) […]

  6. Andrew Carpenter says:

    I am looking forward to a Web Paradigm OF Paradigms…Not sure if this would be considered 3.0 or maybe 4.0?

    3.0: Social Web and Personal Data Management and Presence (that follows you)
    In Web 3.0, connectivity and news-ticker type up-to-the-date streams are in full force while sites are largely static. Rapidly changing paradigms and even slowly changing paradigms are (1) tough to follow except by lots of organic searching/sorting and (2) easy to get new info on a subject/paradigm but much more difficult to catch up on the overview/coherent version of a paradigm. (especially new or rapidly changing ones) There’s not enough subjectivity filters unless you do lots of organic social web building.

    Web 4.0 needs to conquer Cooperative Webs/Purposeful Organization.

  7. […] a core piece of myself, I feel confident that I can now juggle two disparate jobs — that of smartup entrepreneur and that of field guide […]

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