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Travel and Web 3.0 - What Does This Mean?
By Stephen Budd
Friday, 2nd January 2009
 
Just when we were getting to grips with Web 2.0 and Travel 2.0 and Tourism 2.0 and Kitchen Sink 2.0, there has been looming on the horizon the possibility of Web/Travel/Tourism 3.0.

But what does this mean?

Have a bunch of under-employed bloggers just got a little over-excited and made up a term that has no relevance to the rest of us but makes them look clever?  Or does it actually signify something that will have an impact on the way we do business?

Well, I think it's a little of both - certainly at this stage.  The ambitions stated for Web 3.0 projects will have an impact on day to day life once realised but I think we're not close to mass deployment yet so there is no need to start panicking.  However, I thought I would dedicate this week's post to looking at some of the basic questions surrounding this potential change, starting with the two most fundamental ones, "What is 3.0″ and "So what?"

What is 3.0?

As is often the case, it's possible to start with a Wikipedia definition of 3.0 which states:

"Web 3.0 is one of the terms used to describe the evolutionary stage of the Web that follows Web 2.0. Given that technical and social possibilities identified in this latter term are yet to be fully realised the nature of defining Web 3.0 is highly speculative. In general it refers to aspects of the internet which, though potentially possible, are not technically or practically feasible at this time."

Which isn't really that helpful.

However, the rest of the article goes into some more detail and, overall, the impression is that the ambition of Web 3.0 is to create an internet that is simply with fewer boundaries than we (often unconsciously) experience at the moment.  And while these ideas are mainly being considered at a technical level that baffles the rest of us, there are indicators of what this might eventually mean for how we interact.

The semantic web

For example, commenting on a recent TrackingTourism post, Phil Caines of Tourism Tide said

"As far as where we can look for the next ‘wow' change, I can only guess, but if you asked Joe Buhler, he would undoubtedly say "The semantic web of course!', and I think he is right."

The Semantic Web is a key part of 3.0 ambitions.  Put simply, it is a development that would enable web sites to be able to understand the relationship between things.

Let me unpack that last paragraph a little.  At the moment, web sites can be seen a bit like an encyclopaedia.  For example, there might have entries on separate sites with the following information:

  • Boston is in Massachusetts
  • MIT is in Cambridge, over the river from Boston
  • MIT undertakes work in Biotechnology
As a human, you understand that there is something linking these statements but a computer doesn't.  So the aim of the semantic web is to enable computers ‘intuitively' to understand that these three statements are linked. Simple, eh?

So what?

Ignoring the technical practicalities of this, you're probably asking the question, 'so what?' by now.  To my mind, this kind of advance has the potential to make the internet ‘blend together' in a far more efficient way than it does at present.

So, it could be used, for example,  to develop sites that are able to offer best travel packages based on the question, "I live in Boston but I want to watch Manchester United at home some time in October, staying in a budget hotel with easy access to public transport.  What are my best options and when is the best time for me to go?"   This is not an impossible question to answer at the moment but you will probably need to go to 3+ sites to even start to work out an answer.

On the other hand, the semantic web should make that question a lot easier to answer.  All the separate elements of the question (Manchester United playing times, flight times, lodging info etc) would be understood seamlessly and then used to deliver a swift, comprehensive answer.

Another example of how the Semantic Web could be used in marketing is contained in the following article: What the Semantic Web — or Web 3.0 — Can Do for Marketers.

Mobiles and ubiquitous connectivity

As I mentioned earlier, Web 3.0 also seems to imply an internet that is simply more ubiquitous and less bound than at present.  This means, for example,

  • The continued march of the internet onto mobiles as well as the simultaneous blurring of the boundaries between those mobiles and computers;
  • The rise of ubiquitous computing where connectivity is as common as the air you breathe (see this recent MIT article on the possibility of receiving wireless as you drive for example).
But what does this all mean to travel and tourism?

That's a difficult question to answer (but one that will seem frustratingly easy in hindsight).  In some ways, the answer could be something as simple as , ‘what we're doing now - but a lot better' but that ignores the possibility of developments as revolutionary as Tripadvisor and Facebook have been in the last five years.

So, dipping our toe in the quagmire of prediction, our guess is that the web as an experience will become more of a hive than a collection of isolated websites.  What I mean by this is that one site will have the the potential to blur with another and so the web will be more of a collective than previously. If you cast your mind back to an interview we conducted with travel futurologist Ian Yeoman, one of the main points made was that:

"The traveller will want more in less time or with less effort – this has implications for everything from the format of events through to booking processes and the nature of breaks."

And, in this context, consumer demand will dictate that they want more efficient access to information than they currently get. In other words, if there are still pain-points involved in reaching your data, then customers will be less inclined to pursue your offering to the point of booking when there are easier alternatives.

Another implication is that sites will need to ‘tagged' effectively in terms that other sites and, more importantly, customers understand. Perhaps the implication is that we are moving from 'search engine optimisation' to simple 'search optimisation.'

But the future is still hazy so I throw the floor open to the hive mind of our readers and conclude by asking, "What do YOU think 3.0 will mean and what might it look like for travel?"

www.highlandbusinessresearch.com
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