In my opinion, there are a few quite significant changes in the Web we're used to using today, compared to the widely spread classic social Web 2.0 that already became fully mainstream. And the thing that's mostly responsible for this transition, surely has to be the smartphone. The wide spread of smartphones brought us new kinds of services, solutions, interactions and user experience, all powered by a powerful hand-held device supporting web connectivity. And as I will try to explain below, these services go way beyond Web 2.0, which is traditionally still powered by a personal computer. If you ask me, the mobile web is not just a new way to access the World Wide Web, it might as well be the new generation of it.
Modern smartphones come equipped with a wide arrange of additional hardware capabilities, such as high-resolution cameras, various sensors, compasses, gyroscopes and probably the most important – GPS. This fact created an array of new online services, where the ones worth mentioning would definitely be location (geo) based networking and augmented reality. Most of us can probably still remember when first phones with their 300x200 pixel cameras came out, and look at what happened now. Not to mention the giant tablet army that's heading our way.
Real-time web is the driving force behind Twitter, a thing so cool Google adopted it too, while Facebook is having problems to get its information out of privacy. It represents giving information when it happens, not hours (days) later, like the traditional (online) media does. While real-time web might be one of the biggest favorites for the next generation of Web beyond Web 2.0, it's still pretty useless if real time is only on the publisher's side. Mobile devices bring real-time to consumer's side too, enabling real time interactions between millions of users, which creates even more publishers and information – more than a group of professional journalists is ever capable of creating, making this world truly global.
Location-based networking enables socializing based on where you and your friends physically are. Original players, such as Gowalla and Foursquare (who aleady has more than 3 million users) are already being copied by the mainstream, such as Facebook, Twitter and Google (all three naming them Places). While these services are rapidly spreading, they also introduced another interesting thing into networking, the gaming component, which uses badges and achievements to create real-life role playing games.
Combining a compass and a GPS allowed another new type of software, called augmented reality, mostly in the form of solutions that use the camera image and draw things on top of it. There are already a few interesting applications of it available, and the marketing potential of this concept is probably huge. Augmented reality also managed to turn the smartphone into a deadly gadget, and where governments probably spent billions researching similar weapons, a soldier equipped with a €500 smartphone and a proper piece of software could lead a team of warriors who can see each other through walls.
The previous shift in IT was for corporate software solutions to go from desktop to the web (and beyond to the cloud). Funny the trend, as today software is going back from web to mobile "desktop" applications, called apps. This happened because mobile apps enable a much better user experience (they can access the above mentioned capabilities) and at the same time provide less data consumption (making them cheaper and faster). Besides being a billion dollar industry, apps might also create the next step in the evolution of (business oriented) software and IT.
Is the mobile web actually Web 2.5?
These are a few examples of features we haven't seen before, and I think they should be considered when thinking about significant generations of the World Wide Web. The transition from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0 was from static to dynamic, from publishing to sharing and interaction, and the next big step worth mentioning could really be the one presented.
I admit the title of this post is a bit misleading, since this new concept has almost nothing to do with semantic Web 3.0. But I hope my thoughts are not that way off, since I haven't noticed any real authority write about the mobile web as a next big step in the Web's evolution. Right or wrong, from my point of view as a software architect and developer, the mobile era brought us much more than just online access everywhere, it brought a new generation of software and the Web. Besides, we have to be aware that this trend of mobile domination will surely evolve even further and continue to grow in the future. And since the name Web 3.0 is already taken, it might as well be called Web 2.5. What do you think?