The web is changing, moving from a deep place we search to a thin layer that bubbles up personalized information on ambient screens that surround us. We've moved from surfing to searching; what is next is glancing. This is the next web -- the "thin-ternet" -- a new way to think of commerce and advertising.
The "internet of things" isn't new. For years we've laughed at the idea of plants that tweet and fridges that make phone calls, assuming that technology would one day go from fanciful ideas to ways to solve problems. We see this idea manifesting itself in many places, from the "smart home" for our dwelling to the "connected car" on the road. But what the internet of things is really about is technology serving us in new, more contextually-specific, personal ways. In this new world, commerce and advertising will come to us.
Three eras of the web
The first web was the era of portals -- the internet as a magazine where we merely took the information that had once been printed and made editor-driven layouts of content on digital paper. Here Yahoo and AOL ruled the way, their editors deciding what would interest us. Content became arranged by directories and portals became the "front page" of the internet.
The onset of Google search and Ask changed everything for the second web. Users were now in control -- the paradigm of portals was replaced by the act of finding. This was a deeper web, with content hidden in messy structures, but pulled up from the depths based on complex algorithms that helped us find what we were looking for.
The third and current web is a hybrid of three dynamics: search for the things we know we want; a new type of discovery best labelled as algorithmic social curation; and finally, apps. Apps are old and new, a sort of micro-portal, where each app becomes a simple personal framework to pull up specific information from a walled garden of content.
We are now on the edge of the fourth iteration of the web. We're spending more time in a web of apps; the internet of things is spreading to the internet to new places; and we see predictive computing developing. These elements are combining to form a thinner, ambient, pervasive web -- a web that brings up the right information at the right time and projects it onto a thinner layer of technology around us. Could there be a better mechanism for advertising? In this new era, our phones could tell us that our train is delayed and offer us an Uber booking via a notification. My smartwatch sees that my friend is nearby and offers me a mobile coupon for a beer at a local pub.
A web of apps
The thin-ternet is a web of apps where, aided by app links, app bundling and APIs, we spend more time surfing within a personal framework. We may start off with Google Maps to find a movie theatre near us; click within an app to access Fandango to book a ticket; click further to book a suggested restaurant in Open Table; share an invite with a friend via Facebook; and book an Uber ride via its API. The key is that the web is more shallow -- each frame of the internet is already personalized to us, secure so that our personal data can be used to make payments, and browsing and search are made easier.
The thin-ternet becomes anticipatory, too, from context-aware apps like Humin, predictive augmentation like MindMeld, or simple personal assistants like Google Now and Microsoft Cortana. We're going to see a web that establishes our needs and unknown wants and surfaces up information as a thin "card" or "notification" that provides us with key nudges at that time. In this model, we don't need to search -- the right information at the right time just finds us.
Not only does the web start to become thinner, but it appears in more places. We'll see devices like smartwatches or Google Glasses take basic information and present it to us in a more glanceable format, and we'll see devices like the Amazon Echo bring the internet as a new ambient information layer. Perhaps the smart home is really about electric objects that nudge us, mirrors that tell us the weather, electronic artwork in frames that change, clocks that glow red when we're running late and fridges that show us where our family is in real time. This could be an era of brand new product categories to sell, new advertising opportunities to monetize and new behaviors to explore.
The internet is changing fast. We used to go online, we used to enter passwords, we used to search and type credit card details. In the next era, the web becomes a background device that we no longer notice. It serves us, it's hyper-personal, it slips into the background, yet is everywhere. This is the thin-ternet; let's reimagine commerce in this world.