The online encyclopedia is only a taste of what’s to come.
From nearly the first moment the term “Web 2.0” was coined, people have been speculating endlessly about “Web 3.0.” What does the future hold for the Web? What is the next big thing?
I think we should slow down. We are still very much at the beginning of Web 2.0, which I define as a medium marked less by individual production (home pages) than by collaborative production (wikis, social networks, etc.). Although Wikipedia is massively popular, it represents only a fraction of what is possible.
Imagine walking into a traditional library. Gaze around at all the books. The shelf with the encyclopedias contains only a tiny fraction of all the works in the library. It’s the same with Wikipedia. So at Wikia, the Web hosting service I set up in 2004, we are now working on building the rest of the library. The encyclopedia (in English, at least) is already fairly comprehensive. Now people are moving on to other types of work: humor, political activism, gaming guides, and more. Even this is only scratching the surface. Our search project will allow mass collaboration on the creation of search results. Projects that others are working on will allow mass collaboration on video production, music, and more.
Consider–as one imaginary example–the production of a documentary film about social attitudes to global warming in different cultures around the world. For a traditional film crew to conduct hundreds of “person in the street” interviews worldwide and edit them together into a compelling narrative would be incredibly expensive, requiring months of travel.
But a community of thoughtful people on the Internet would require only some organization and leadership, because the tools are already widely distributed. The movement from individual video production (as in most of what appears on YouTube today) to collaborative video production is becoming possible with the development of collaborative video-editing tools.
The Wikipedia model may even extend to solving problems afflicting the Internet itself (see “The Web’s Dark Energy” by Jonathan Zittrain). The spread of worms, viruses, and spam disrupts the Internet, but tight security measures threaten what is good about the medium. Rather than confronting a stark choice between anarchy and top-down control, we may find that communal efforts can yield a reasonable solution.
Jimmy Wales is the cocreator of Wikipedia and founder of wikia, a web hosting service.
Become an MIT Technology Review Insider for in-depth analysis and unparalleled perspective.Subscribe today