In Web 3.0 We Trust -- or Not

Why We Need a Return to the Human Side of Things

By Published on . 20

Judy Shapiro
Judy Shapiro
The Web 3.0 conference is about to kick off on May 19 in New York. No doubt it will be well attended by anyone wanting to see what's "bleeding edge." After all, Web 2.0 is so "done."

Well aside from the general lack of understanding about what Web 3.0 is exactly, there is a befuddling mix of technologies all competing for a stake in this still unformed, Jell-o-like confection. I think it is safe to say that at a 50,000-foot view, the general consensus is that Web 3.0 is about making the web a more personal web.

Beyond that yellow brick road of a concept, paths diverge wildly. You've got Tim Berners-Lee talking about the Next Web being about linked data. And then you have the semantic technology advocates working on contextually intelligent search engines. The Google juggernaut is creating intelligent search agents that act as your digital butler -- dutifully and efficiently learning your habits to serve faithfully and without complaint. (I have fun imagining digital versions of the butlers from the BBC series "Upstairs, Downstairs" sans the British accent.) Who wouldn't want an internet that can anticipate my needs, understand my meaning and even allow me to find information better than ever?

But there's a proverbial fly in this digital ointment and it is betrayed by the very name "Web 3.0." It is paradoxical that the name, which is suited to a software release, is being used to metaphorically define a web that is meant to let us express our humanity. The irony of it all is rich.

If it were just a paradox, it would be an interesting intellectual thought experiment. But there's more at stake here. Web 3.0 clearly tells us what is driving the next generation web -- technology. I respectfully submit that if this future web is focused on technology alone, it can not succeed. What is required in equal measure to the technology is the introduction of the human element of trust. The internet is a digital society governed by the same principles as in the real world. Trust is the glue that holds societies together, and this is true of the web world, too. No doubt creating an intelligent web is cool, but without the foundation of trust Web 3.0 will be built on pillars of sand.

"Wait a minute," I hear many of you thinking. "Who says I can't trust the web? I do my banking online. I send e-mail. The web is plenty trustworthy -- thank you very much. But offer me an internet that can show me how to buy that pimped-up iPhone and I'm there."

That kind of thinking is exactly the problem. As Melih Abdulhayoglu, CEO of Comodo, a leading internet security company has said, "Technology adoption tends to ignore the human element until there is some disastrous trigger event that forces us to introduce protections around these new technologies." How many times do people using Twitter have to be hit with a virus? Or how many social profiles have to get compromised before the industry takes note?

Well Web 3.0 runs the same risk, because as our dependence on the internet grows, a lack of trust will unravel any or all of the marvelous innovations being conceived now. What good is more linked data when we have no idea which data to trust? Wouldn't you rather get a product recommendation from a trusted friend than a "paid" digital butler, ah, I mean agent?

You get the idea and this just touches the tip of the iceberg. As we explore how to create a technologically advanced web, we must marry that to the human factor of trust. It is not an either/or proposition but the ying/yang of the internet. One can not have technological innovation without being able to trust. Nor can one develop the "smarter" web without introducing the Trusted Web. We must consider seriously how to transfer this trust infrastructure to the web world with new technologies around authentication, privacy, ID management and security (and OpenID ain't the answer folks).

Since I would never, ever place my trust on just technology alone, I am lobbying to rename the whole Web 3.0 sha-bang to the Trusted Web. This places the emphasis where it belongs, on the human element, and this is how the web can evolve to a personal web.

Do I have a shot?

(By the way -- other ideas for the name of next-gen web would be cool too.)

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Judy Shapiro is senior VP at Paltalk and has held senior marketing positions at Comodo, Computer Associates, Lucent Technologies, AT&T and Bell Labs. Her blog, Trench Wars, provides insights on how to create business value on the internet.

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