November 13, 2006

Web 3.0, Google Docs and Spreadsheets as E-Room Killer, and Giving Thanks

Posted earlier at

I have enjoyed seeing Anne Zelenka jam with Sheila Lennon about why more decimals and numerals aren't what's changing on the net--what's changing are our needs and wants around making work and life easier to endure, and maybe even enjoy. Anne says:

What we want from the next generation of the web or even this generation of it is action. We need it to handle more of the tedious details of life. Sheila Lennon points out where this morning’s NY Times article got it wrong. It’s not about meaning. It’s about software agents who can do our bidding and remove some of the friction from managing our days.

Sheila gives an interpretation of what we can do, and why it matters, and then gets some input from those who live and breath software design on usefulness.... and slinkies.

When restaurants are online in realtime (yet to happen), my computer could display Providence restaurants serving cordon bleu tonight at what prices, ask me to choose one (around when?) then make a reservation, reserve a portion of chicken cordon bleu for me, and notify the restaurant's computer if I'm hung up in traffic. It will not think about chicken cordon bleu. Its mouth will not water.

And -- being my agent -- it will not suggest I've had enough calories already today and should have salad instead.

Bonus: The HAL transcripts.

Update: A couple of bloggers more tech-savvy than me address this post, and further it.

Programmer and tech author Shelley Powers, On Meaning:

What most people want (from the Semantic Web) is what Sheila is describing: systems that work together seamlessly; that integrate immediately; that help us do something we couldn't do before.

...I find it interesting, though, to see these writings about the web of meaning now, when I've finally reached a personal epiphany that as cool as this stuff is, it has about as much practical use as a Slinky.

While Nick Bradbury has decided the semantic web isn't ready for prime time, I think there are other questions to consider before deciding that Web 3.0 doesn't validate.

What I Think...

If the dot-com era was about commerce, and web 2.0 about conversation and innovation--an explosion of features, then web 3.0 is about combining those innovations with commerce. It's ALL about making many-to-many collaboration real. And I mean effortless, ubiquitous, simple Me-to-You (m2y) collaboration. I mean working together with people online through free platforms -- often people we've never met (or would have never met) offline -- to build businesses outside of business, the same way we built conversations outside of business.

How very fitting that a mega-company like Google is leading the charge--it is the only company that can, because it is the only company with nothing to lose by doing so, because it came from this space. Its business model is intrinsic to this space. That's why Adam Lashinsky of CNN Money is right when he says, It's all about Google, although I'm far more optimistic than he.

It's become easy--I would say cliche--to poke holes at "web 2.0" and its components. Smart people--and the net is full of them--are thinking about how to fit within Google's model or how to rival it. Meanwhile, Google is developing (and buying) what all of us need to get from here to there.

So who wins?

We win.

The commons wins.

For once, we win. We the workers, the 'force' has never counted in the 'work force' can collaborate nearly for free GLOBALLY and efficiently, using our brains instead of the shop floor to manufacture, then barter and exchange whatever products and currencies WE CHOOSE with others. Linden dollars, real dollars, books, sex, cash FOR ideas, products, charities, whatever.

Why? How? Because what all of this innovation has resulted in the ability for us to become co-producers and partners with business, and with one another. Creators as well as consumers, makers and buyers. We are not an after thought in commerce. The world has become too flat for that.

Yes, the earth is flat. Or at least it's getting there.

For me as a business person and marketing/PR pro, although I have a lot of problems with the industry that germinated those terms, this Web 2.0/3.0 debate is not an existential exercise. It is my daily reality.

Since 2003 I have pined for a solution like Documentum's E-Room for collaboration with my global colleagues I have met through blogging and online social spaces. I have long identified such collaborative spaces--ones that work easily and seamlessly--as the single biggest competitive differentiator for large firms against the independent, networked worker. Because they cost several thousands of dollars each year and require great technical know how to administer. These differentiators-as-barriers are ripe for the net to overturn.

Enter Google, barely making a sound, but unleashing the most simple and powerful document collaboration platform -- for FREE -- with google docs and spreadsheets. I was blown away when I started using it just last week. You can collaborate with others, including your clients, real time, inside of documents (uploaded word documents, excel spreadsheets and others), in a shared space. You can administer editing and viewing rights. You can export and import to common file formats. You can even subscribe to docs via RSS to track changes! I mean HOLY CRAP. All of these years I've been begging for this, and Google tosses it out there like a crouton atop a luscious salad.

And how did Google develop it? Through web 2.0 acquisitions and software innovations. What have they created with those things? A web 3.0 collaborative nexus.

So Now What...

Just for today, decide that you are going to love the net, love what is going on here, remember how it was before, look around the room you're in right now and think about what has changed in how short a time. Forget what we call it, forget semantics, forget decimials, forget numerals. Remember the people you have met--people you've always thought, "Damn, I wish I could work with her," and understand that you can, we are, and that is a very very very cool thing.

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