“When It Comes to Web 2.0 and Next Gen Communications, I’m with Tim … Pretty Much.”

Timothy Berners-Lee invented the browser and, subsequently, the World with-tim.pngWide Web. The impact of this browser thing of his is so profound that not only does it transform the way that everyone in the industrialized world interacts with each other, it inspired Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth – with but two taps of the royal sword – to transform Mr. Berners-Lee himself into Sir Timothy. Lately Sir Timothy has been working hard with the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and their partners to refine, expand, and standardize his original creation.

Sir Tim has also become a commentator on all things web. And his comments are not always that positive. For instance, in an interview with Scott Laningham on an IBM developerWorks podcast, Sir Tim said “Web 1.0 was all about connecting people.  It was an interactive space, and I think Web 2.0 is of course a piece of jargon, nobody even knows what it means.  If Web 2.0 for you is blogs and wikis, then that is people to people.  But that was what the Web was supposed to be all along.

And in fact, you know, this Web 2.0, quote, it means using the standards which have been produced by all these people working on Web 1.0.  It means using the document object model, it means for HTML and SVG and so on, it’s using HTTP, so it’s building stuff using the Web standards, plus Java script of course.  So Web 2.0 for some people it means moving some of the thinking client side so making it more immediate, but the idea of the Web as interaction between people is really what the Web is. That was what it was designed to be, as a collaborative space where people can interact.” When it comes to Web 2.0 and next gen communications, I’m with Tim … pretty much. I agree that Web 2.0, a term coined by the highly respected folks over at O’Reilly, is an important step in evolution rather than a full-blown revolution, but, here is where Sir Tim’s opinions and mine begin to diverge.

Web 1.0 vs Web 2.0
In my view, the real meaning of Web 2.0, whether intended by O’Reilly or not – and I don’t think it was – is that Web 2.0 is actually a clear dividing line, a demarcation of sorts, between the “World Wide Web for Experts” and the “World Wide Web for Everyone”. On the left of the dividing line, in Web 1.0 Land, we can picture fifth graders learning to code HTML, and business people learning codes to make Google searches work better. We can envision grannies in global knitting clubs gaining a greater understanding of different browser implementations so they can standardize so that knitting patterns appear accurately and consistently on the screen. And, we can visualize medical researchers learning a whole lot more about special fonts, photo compression and color rendering than they should have to in order to publish their research results on the World Wide Web. On the right side of the line of demarcation, in the World of Web 2.0, those same fifth graders have chosen WordPress over HTML-coded pages because they can go from ideas to publishing without knowing HTML. Those business people aren’t typing Google searches on their laptops anymore but, rather, they have voice activated mobile devices that surpass anything they could do before. Those medical researchers also have new tools that allow them to publish complicated results without being experts in the nuances of web visualization and the grannies are likewise empowered. So, what is the difference?

The Difference Is …
The clear difference is that the new world is much more intuitive and much more integrated into a person’s daily life. We no longer run to the PC when we need information, we type into our mobile device and voila! We speak to our navigation systems and they talk back. We talk to voice mail, and many of us command complex systems with our spoken word. Information finds us, too, based upon our preferences, or our actual proximity to certain physical things.  We are driving past the pharmacy and forget to pick up our prescription? There are systems that will remind us. We need to find the shortest path to a meeting? No worries. And, unlike the systems of old, these new gizmos don’t take us the wrong way down one-way streets or straight through the Big Dig. They actually work. And why? Much of the success of these new systems is a result of the enhancements and leaps in sophistication, accuracy and wider-spread deployment of a variety of underlying technologies, the inner machinery that make these things work.  This coupled with the unstoppable march of Moore’s Law and the impact of cutting costs in half in less than every fourteen to sixteen months.

Examples of many of the technologies are from the wireless realm, or, more accurately where the wireless realm and the terrestrial meet: Internet Multimedia Subsystem (IMS), Fixed-Mobile Convergence (FMC) and Next Gen Networks (NGN) and the technological piece-parts from which these things are built, including mobile routers and mesh networks, 3G, 4G and beyond, QoS-assured Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) networks running over high capacity optical systems and all of the elements that make all of those things work.

So, what’s a technologist to do? How does one keep up with all of this? In a world where the rate of knowledge creation is such that the world’s collective knowledge is double in years instead of a millennium, formal and informal study is mandatory as is real hands-on experience using the tools in everyday life. And, don’t be fooled by the similarity of current acronyms to the old ones. Many technologies have stood the test of time but are just now starting to realize their full potential.

Editor’s Note: Jim, an author of half a dozen books on telecom, has 30 years of hands-on experience in data networking and optical technologies. A dynamic presenter, he’s teaching the Oct-Nov web classes on NGN, IMS/ SIP, MPLS, EoIP/VoIP, and IPTVRead bio.