The Self-Aware Web
Web 2.0 is making the Web a vastly more useful, usable, and dynamic communications vehicle but there’s one thing the Web has not yet become, and that’s self-aware.
The Semantic Web
The Semantic Web is all about making online data machine-readable and therefore infinitely more useable. The most prominent manifestation of the Semantic Web are the mashups that have blossomed due to the ability to combine two sets of data to forge an entirely new creation that is a much more useful and meaningful whole.
A simple example of this would be combining map data with, to take a dramatic example that hits close to home, a list of all the structurally deficient bridges in Minnesota.
Where once you had a map of Minnesota and a simple list of bridges, you now have a visual representation of the locations of those bridges so you can determine at a glance which you may need to concern yourself with.
The Responsive Web
The Responsive Web, on the other hand, is the programming (through AJAX) of Web sites that behave more like software applications, that are faster, more interactive and usable, and offer greater functionality.
A simple example of this are smart Web forms that make data-entry at a Web site easier and more accurate.
More sophisticated examples are Amazon.com’s recommendation engine and LinkedIn’s relationship engine.
Amazon’s recommendation engine is incredibly sophisticated and I’m sure it does a fantastic job as an up-sell and cross-sell tool, but it can’t distinguish when I’m shopping for myself from when I’m shopping for gifts. It doesn’t understand that I have no need for child-size Vikings jerseys until the Christmas season when I might want one for a nephew.
LinkedIn, on the other hand, is amazing in its ability to analyze relationships and tell you who you should know.
The Self-Aware Web
All of this is fine and well and a great step forward in the evolution of the Internet but one major piece that we’re missing is Web sites that are aware of themselves.
I want a web site that analyzes the statistics from increasingly sophisticated Web site traffic statistics programs or services like Google Analytics and data from user-behavior analytics services like ClickTracks while understanding it’s own structure, function, and content.
Essentially, I see a future websites are self-aware based on aggregate user patterns and and which analyze those user patterns to detect significant trends and respond to those trends, such as personalizing content for individual users, recognize abandonment behavior and provide better, alternative user paths, notice when a person is ready to buy and prompt them with a call to action.