The Pervasive Web

A lot of people have begun speculating about Web 3.0. I don’t want to even go there. Some folks have been calling it the “semantic web” which refers to the more tightly integrated ability to find information in a manageable way. That’s probably not a great definition either. But what the heck, I don’t agree with it either.

The official next generation of the web is what I call the pervasive web. The pervasive web speaks to the redistribution of what we know as the internet – browsers and computers interacting with data and service and even people – into a truly “always available” experience. The concept behind pervasive web is that you the user can access your information wherever you might be and interact with the global community wherever you might be, in whatever method is available. You know – the right content, at the right time, in the right place on the right device.

The closest thing I see to pervasive web today is Twitter which has been my favorite thing to blog about recently. Through Twitter, you and I can interact with each other and our world while sitting in front of our computers or while walking the dog via our cell phones. This is pervasive web. This is pervasive conversation. Facebook comes in quickly behind this by allowing folks to message each other and update their status messages from wherever they are.

I don’t know about you, but I’m extremely frustrated by the limitation of most of the web to 17-30″ of screen space. At some point, the internet will emerge from the finite boundaries of screens and truly cross over into real life. That’s the pervasive web and that’s where we’re going.

Rick Segal, who in full disclosure is one of b5media’s VCs, wrote a post called “The Wheels of the Bus” the other day that caused me to think harder about this concept. He wrote:

Walk among the people; the real people. Watch, ask, listen, ask again, listen again. You can spot trends, solutions, validate ideas, etc, by taking the train and bus to work. For example: In the U.S., the Sunday paper has an insert section that contains a big pile of coupons and flyers from local grocery stores. Millions of households base the shopping plans around those flyers. Who has the hamburger on sale, etc. Nobody has successfully pulled off a comparison site that let’s you put in your shopping list and simply tells you, go here, take these coupons and save this much. Massive audience of rabid people who try to squeeze every penny out of the grocery budget. There are actually some good reasons why and I’ll cover this in another post but the larger point is that in talking to people, I know this is a big deal based on hundreds of hours of research on this one.

Rick is hitting on something thoughout his article and I highly recommend you read it. At the end of the day, listening to what people need in day to day life and delivering on it is the key to business success. I think it goes beyond business success. I think it taps into the future of the web. We’ve seen companies come along like Tripit which organizes travel itineraries and Slingbox which allows for cool interaction between your television and the internet (and for whom my friend Dave Zatz works for) figure out ways to meet peoples needs in real life. Lots of companies are cool ideas, but these guys are actually listening to what people want and figuring out how to deliver it.

I can’t tell you how many people I know who when you talk to them about the internet react with something about not wanting to sit in front of a computer after they are done with work. Hey, somebody help these people out!

Aaron Brazell

Aaron Brazell is a Baltimore, MD-based WordPress developer, a co-founder at WP Engine, WordPress core contributor and author. He wrote the book WordPress Bible and has been publishing on the web since 2000. You can follow him on Twitter, on his personal blog and view his photography at The Aperture Filter.

8 thoughts on “The Pervasive Web

  1. Hi Aaron, good post. The pervasive web is a pretty good term describing the things you want. I did a similar post earlier and tried to think of a term that avoids web 3.0. I am a strong believer that focus for innovation should be on interaction. Current social networks are not really about interaction, they are about monetizing the value in the network (which was of course created by its users, not by the service owner). Twitter is doing a good job on interaction, but I like Twitter most when I am actuelly interacting with others. As a counterexample for this, if I follw a person on Twitter, but he’s not following me, that makes me a groupie instead of a friend. I don’t like that aspect of Twitter. I ended up introducing the term Open Social Interaction Network in my post, but I like your proposal for a pervasive web:
    http://vanelsas.wordpress.com/2007/10/11/10-ways-to-improve-web-20-and-move-into-an-era-of-true-interaction/

  2. Many years ago, IBM had an initiative called the Pervasive Web. A lot of it got rolled into WebSphere and marketed as the next generation of application development. I’m sure it’s used a lot in business/enterprise applications, but I doubt consumers are touching it in anyway.

    I often take a step back at family meals, look at the people around the table, and ask myself: “Would this person have any use at all for [Twitter/Facebook/etc.]. More often than not, the answer is no; which doesn’t mean these apps aren’t going to be successful, because there’s a whole other segment of the market that will use them. It does mean that there’s a whole large segment whose needs aren’t being met with the current solutions, and that there are lots of opportunities out there.

  3. A good debate and I like Greg’s comment. I think, however, that he will be surprised soon enough. Not so long ago, it was unthinkable that everyone would have (at least one) phone with them all the time. The iPod came from nowhere and is part of the kit and caboodle for millions.

    The combination of platforms and channels as they evolve is going to make pervasive interactive communication very doable and I think that there are very fundamental human drivers that will pull people in much to their surprise.

  4. Pervasive web. Like the name ok — better than web 3.0! I think your description is close: “The concept behind pervasive web is that you the user can access your information wherever you might be and interact with the global community wherever you might be, in whatever method is available. You know – the right content, at the right time, in the right place on the right device.”

    Reach farther. Not me accessing my info wherever I might be. (I do that already on my smart phone!) How about all of us accessing what others know — like a virtual hive mind. See here for more on this: http://blogs.msdn.com/johnmullinax/archive/2007/06/20/computing-is-a-liberal-art-part-3-strategies-for-reinforcing-loops-and-the-hive-mind.aspx.

  5. Like your post, but as I see it the pervasive web and the semantic web are two different things, who will co-exist in the near future, and will both form the next generation of the web.
    The semantic web is the intelligent web where computers can understand web content (bottom-up by tagging sites with meta data or top-down through interpretation of natural language). The pervasive web means that we connect to the web through all kinds of devices, not just a computer screen, as you already described. Definitely a desirable thing, I agree!

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