5.09.2007

Ray Lane's Six Webs

If you thought that the confusion between Web 1.0 and Web 2.0 was confusing, what about six Webs? That's how many that Ray Lane suggested during his talk at "The New Software Industry: Forces at Play, Business in Motion," a fascinating conference co-hosted last week by Carnegie Mellon West and the University of California, Berkeley.

Lane, who's currently a managing partner at super venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, is probably better known as the president and COO of Oracle during most of the 1990s. While he's not known as an Internet guru, Lane is definitely one of the more profound thinkers in our industry, and has a track record to match.

Lane's premise, during his talk, is that huge enterprise applications (including those sold by Oracle and competitors like SAP) are going to give way to Web-based services that provide personal productivity to workers. Employees at all levels of a business benefit from software when it helps them get information fast, and make decisions fast.

The technology used to implement those decisions doesn't really matter—nor does it matter if the technology is running on in-house servers or on external services. It doesn't matter if the software is free or expensive. At the end of the day, it's all about enhancing the worker's productivity. As the Web morphs from the read-only Web 1.0 to the read/write Web 2.0 to the self-directed Web 3.0, the balance is going to shift toward Web applications, instead of enterprise applications. (That's my interpretation of his comments, by the way—Lane didn't express the concept in that language.)

Given the importance and evolution of Web-based technologies and services, Lane says, it's essential to bear in mind that there are six different Webs. Each one has its own software, its own use cases, its own industry leaders and its own evolutionary trajectory. So, when you're talking about using the Web, or leveraging the Web, don't just think Web 1.0 or Web 2.0. Think about these categories:

• The Near Web. This is when the Internet comes to you, using a browser running on your desktop or notebook, and you're driving it.

• The Far Web. This is when you sit back in the audience, passively experiencing the Web together with other people.

• The Here Web. This is when you take a subset of the Web with you, thanks to mobile devices like cell phones or PDAs.

• The Weird Web. That's his funny term for when you use the Web to communicate with or control inanimate objects, like your car or remote telemetry.

• The B2B Web. That's when you use the Web for transactional business with your supply chain, partners and customers.

• The D2D Web. That's when devices talk directly to other devices using the Internet, without your involvement.

Is that the best model for understanding the Web, or should I say, the Webs? Hard to know. But certainly, from the user and developer perspective, the design of Web applications created for someone to use via a browser is very different from that of applications that do back-end plumbing. It's something to think about.

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Co-founder and editorial director of BZ Media, which publishes SD Times, the leading magazine for the software development industry. Founder of SPTechCon: The SharePoint Technology Conference, AnDevCon: The Android Developer Conference, and Big Data TechCon. Also president and principal analyst of Camden Associates, an IT consulting and analyst firm.