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Is the 'Baby' Web Growing up?

This is not your father's Web 2.0, says Tim O'Reilly, a long-time promoter of the concept of a Web that's more interactive and 'smarter' than the original read-only Web.

O'Reilly and John Battelle previewed some of what they have planned for the upcoming Web 2.0 Summit in October, by talking about changes they see in the evolution of the Web.

Comparing the early Web circa 1994 to a baby, O'Reilly said it really didn't have much control over its movements and was awash in sensations.

"It was like a baby getting lots of raw input, putting things in its mouth," he said. Back then the Web was relatively tiny by today's standards, with 72,000 documents, 5,738 Web hosts and around 117,000 links.

By comparison, "last year Google announced it crawls a trillion pages," said O'Reilly.

But it's not just a numbers game. "When you look at the current generation of applications, you can see the Web getting smarter," said O'Reilly. He mentioned technologies like global position systems (GPS) and voice recognition enabling a new generation of Web services.

For example, Google's voice search is ready for input once you put a mobile device to your ear. "Say 'Pizza' and it gives you the three closest places to where you are," said O'Reilly.

"The speech recognition is happening in the cloud, not the phone. Google knows what you're likely to mean by coordinating the speech with its search database," he added.

Another example he mentioned in the mobile space is Layer, touted as the first "mobile augmented reality browser." The free Layer application for mobile phones displays digital information in real time on top of "reality" through the camera of your mobile phone.

For example, as a video at the company's Web site shows, as you move your phone's camera around looking at houses, a real-time overlay shows which ones are for sale and other information.

"The database is all in the cloud, the imaging and processing is in the clouds," said O'Reilly. "The phone is just a related sensor. I think we're in the early stage applications, but heck what we've seen already shows how far the Web has come."

Another example is Microsoft's Project Natal, which uses a camera to track a user's movements via full skeletal mapping. It also recognizes vocal commands.

In essence, you don't need a joystick or controller because the player herself controls the action. Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) previewed the technology earlier this month for the XBox 360.

"Your TV is looking at you, that's pretty amazing," said O'Reilly.

For now, it's easier to find things in cyberspace that have unique identifiers, like finding a book by its ISBN number. O'Reilly noted that people don't have a common identifier yet, though things like an e-mail address gets us part of the way.

"There's e-mail and also Twitter has become an amazing identifier and now you have Facebook letting you own your own domain name, that's very powerful," said O'Reilly. "I think there will be some interesting name space (models) and a lot of them squatted on."