Keeping Up With an Ever-Evolving Internet

Welcome to the future of the web. A few weeks ago we explored the history and future of the internet in Web 2.0, Web 3.0, and the Internet of Things. But there’s a lot more to be said about the innovations that are moving us from the semantic web of today into the Internet of Things, or network of smart devices we’re creating for tomorrow. Equally, there is a lot more being said—by reporters, entrepreneurs, and professors, all focused on the same questions: how have the previous technology shifts affected us, and how will the future of technology impact us?

As UX practitioners, it is prudent to learn from the past, necessary to stay up to date with the present, and enticing to help shape the future. This week, we’ll review some of the best articles and recommended readings for summarizing the current state of the web and analyzing the future.

Summarizing the Past: Web 2.0

We’ll begin with a few articles that remind us where we’re coming from and where much of the Internet still is today. This is the Web 2.0 of the 1990s and the 2000s, populated with blogs, videos, and the start of WordPress. The authors of these articles show us how the web of the past has affected our lives—in positive and negative ways.

Vaccine Risk Communication in the Context of Web 2.0: Respecting the Power of Stories, by Brian Zikmund-Fisher

On September 2, the University of Michigan’s Risk Science Center published associate professor Zikmund-Fisher’s article detailing what he learned at a conference about the discussion of vaccination risk in the Web 2.0 era. In it, Zikmund-Fisher asserts that before Web 2.0, people’s vaccination knowledge came from public health messages and personal physicians who pushed for vaccines to be done and touted their safety, and so, people were vaccinated. After Web 2.0, stories and anecdotal evidence from social media became the foremost method that people learned about vaccination benefits and risks, and, because these messages are mostly negative, the number of vaccinations dropped.

The article does not take sides on the vaccination debate, but it does instruct public health professionals and physicians that if they want to communicate their point, they can no longer just talk about facts—they must start telling compelling stories to rival the anti-vaccination stories that abound. This is because people learn and make decisions based on two very different psychological models—analytical thought and emotion—and Web 2.0 is showing that the emotions elicited by the anti-vaccine messages on social media are winning out over the rationales supported by facts.

Analysis: Social media empowered in #Ferguson, by Jeffrey Layne Blevins

On September 26, Jeffrey Layne Blevins, head of the Journalism Department at the University of Cincinnati, discussed the affect social media had on the events in Ferguson, Missouri in his article on Blevins contrasts the public reaction to the death of Michael Brown on August 9 to the similar police-related death of Timothy Thomas in 2001. In both cases, civil unrest followed the shooting death of an unarmed african-american teenager by a white police officer. The difference is that in 2001, the unrest lasted for four days, while this latest incident caused weeks-long protests and demonstrations.

The social media bandwagon

Photo Credit: Matt Hamm via Compfight cc

Blevins asserts that social media is responsible for the difference. In 2001, social media was not around to provide instant imagery and commentary about the situation, and this user-generated content clearly changed the dynamics of the dispute—he does not take sides on whether this change was for better or worse. What Blevins is clear about is that social media has changed how people interact not only with law enforcement, but also with the news, and that social media is empowering to everyone, which can have both positive and negative consequences.

Creating the Future: Web 3.0

Web 3.0 is on the cutting edge of technologies such as virtual reality; artificial intelligence; and semantic, personalized content. While some sites and applications are using one or more of these technologies, true Web 3.0 combines all of these and more to be a “smart,” ever-present part of our lives. The articles here look to the future, but to a future that we are rapidly approaching—a future that, only a decade ago, would have seemed like science fiction.

10 Fascinating Ideas That Changed The Internet, by Jim Boulton

While, as the name suggest, all ten of the items that Boulton, author of “100 Ideas that Changed the Web,” writes about in his September 11 article are interesting, number ten is truly fascinating and shows what Web 3.0 should, and could, be. Boulton explains that Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the Internet, had a vision for the web as a World Wide Mind—and although that sounds far-fetched, it really isn’t so far from reality.

100 Ideas that Changed the Web

100 Ideas that Changed the Web

Boulton uses Facebook as an example of people and applications interacting to create a larger pool of knowledge. Think, for example, of the way a user can ask for coffee shop suggestions in a new city, and get responses from high school, college, and professional friends who have visited or lived there. He points out that other sites like Amazon, Ebay, and Twitter are doing the same thing—these sites are learning from us and are, in a sense, thinking, or at least very cleverly using algorithms to analyze and learn from our inputs. And, if that knowledge can be shared more broadly across an open network, which it could be soon, we would be much closer to realizing a Semantic Web.

From E-Commerce to Web 3.0: Let the Bots Do the Shopping, by Sramana Mitra

On September 16, entrepreneur and strategy consultant Sramana Mitra published a blog post on WIRED’s Innovation Insights, explaining her vision of what Web 3.0 will entail. She states that Web 3.0 = (4C + P + VS)—in other words, Web 3.0 = Content, Commerce, Community, and Context, plus Personalization and Vertical Search. Although Web 2.0 offers all of these things today, they are not combined into one intelligent system to offer a fully personalized and seamless experience.

Mitra gives hypothetical examples of bots that will be able to book the perfect vacation for a user based on his personality, tastes, budget, and interests (like a much smarter version of TripAdvisor or Orbitz); and bots that will be able to offer tailored fashion advice and seamless access to buy that fashion based on user’s size, shape, skin color, style, budget, and so on. These bots would combine all of the elements of Web 2.0, plus some artificial intelligence in order to replace a human travel agent or personal shopper with a bot that is available at a user’s whim on any device.

Forging Ahead in the New AI Economy, by Elliot Turner

Elliot Turner, CEO of AlchemyAPI, offers further insight into the artificial intelligence that many believe is a required component of Web 3.0 in his September 19 article. He points out that artificial intelligence is already being used and is already a big part of our economy. Google Maps, for example, uses AI technology to give more accurate directions and both Siri and Google Now use speech recognition, language understanding, and predictive modeling (all tenets of AI) to be our digital personal assistants.

Besides explaining in what ways we already experience AI, he also gives his prediction for the future. That future includes advanced cognitive systems becoming more widely available and businesses creating new products because of them. He also envisions the challenges that are inherent in doing this—the inexperience of developers with unstructured data, and the ability to make AI accessible, understandable, and reliable.

Dreaming Up the Future: Internet of Things (IoT)

The Internet of Things is another possible future for the web. IoT is a vision of a world where devices, ranging from smart phones to automated buildings, are not only connected to the Internet, but can also communicate with each other and accomplish tasks without human input. It seems to be a likely future as we add Internet connectivity to more and more devices, but, as these next articles point out, there are major issues that still need to be addressed.

Securing the Internet of Things, by Peter Sondergaard

On September 25, Peter Sondergaard, SVP of Research at Gartner, expressed his concerns with the security of the IoT and why the IoT is vulnerable. Sondergaard explains that manufacturing companies who we would previously have not thought of as producing Internet-connected devices—cars, construction equipment, household appliances (like Whirlpool’s “smart” washing machine)—are now producing just that. With this vast increase in the number of devices connected to the Internet and the number of devices who we trust with our personal and business information, the age-old issue of Internet security becomes magnified by an unimaginable magnitude.

As Sondergaard states, “The fundamental meaning of security is changing as things both inside your enterprise and those you create become connected to the Internet. Now is the time to grasp both the speed and impact this will have or risk your own ‘high-speed mobile devices’ crashing with catastrophic results for your enterprise.”

Why the Internet of Things may never happen, by Mike Elgan

On September 27, Mike Elgan, opinion columnist for, echoed the concerns that Sondergaard had and adds additional insight into the challenges facing IoT. Elgan states that there are two major flaws facing the idyllic vision of IoT—standards and security. He goes on to say that he believes the term “Internet of Things” was really a misleading name for something that was really a theory built on wishful thinking.

Without a universal set of standards, it will be impossible for all of our devices to speak to each other and because Internet-connected devices are in such demand, corporations will be fighting to create their own proprietary standards in order to make more money. It would be like the “browser wars” of the past, only on a much larger scale.

Browser Wars

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Online security has always been an issue, but the recent “Shellshock” bash bug only served to further point out how far we need to go in order to be secure. He states that it’s easy enough to fix computer systems that have been infected with such a virus. But, if you have hundreds of thousands of devices, all running different operating systems and all owned by people of varying degrees of technical knowledge, the certainty with which you could eliminate a threat becomes nearly impossible.

Where do we go from here?

While we can’t know for certain how new technology will affect us, we can learn from the past, be conscious of the present, and be conscientious about the future that we create. Part of our responsibility as UX practitioners is to constantly hone our skills and improve our products. Without knowledge of the technology behind the sites and applications we create, we can’t fully optimize experiences for users; and, as technology becomes more complex and more intertwined in everyday life, our jobs as user champions become all the more important.

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