NEW YORK — Is the Web site passé?
You might think so if you spoke to Aza Raskin.
During a keynote here at the Web 3.0 Conference, Raskin — head of user experience at Mozilla Labs, as well as a mathematician, physicist and user interface guru — told the audience that the evolution of the Net favors services and applications rather than the static sites that dominated the first iteration of the Web.
He said that the Web has already moved from read-only sites in Web 1.0 to the interactive Web sites of Web 2.0 — but that’s just the beginning.
“You could do neat things with Web 2.0 — you could videotape police beating people up and do something about it,” Raskin said.
The next stage of evolution, Web 3.0, starts not with a new Web site but with sharing and services that are delivered through applications and mashups.
“Why can’t I yet add a map to e-mail,” Raskin asked. “And spell check! I have nine versions of it on my PC and only about half of them know my name and I cannot use any of them on the Web!”
Despite the promise of Web 3.0, Raskin said that there will be no applications on the Web until there are proven use cases, and that there will be no use cases until the applications are there. It’s a chicken and egg issue that he proposed to solve — and also demonstrate — with Mozilla Labs’ Ubiquity app.
The app is designed to enable user-generated mashups. In his demonstration, Raskin used Ubiquity to add a map and Yelp restaurant reviews to an e-mail inviting a friend to dinner. He then put the dinner on his calendar.
Ubiquity can work with Web sites as well as Web-based apps. Raskin showed a scenario in which a house-hunter browsing Craigslist could map a selected group of homes for sale.
“Currently, it works only on Craigslist,” he admitted. “But it is a demonstration of the principle: to map, to plot, to see data as we want to see it.”
As much as Ubiquity demonstrates the potential of Web 3.0, it also demonstrates its limits. “It’s now a 0.2 product,” said Raskin, meaning that it is in a very early stage of development. For one thing, the interface needs work and the use cases remain limited — so far.
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Still, to further demonstrate both the power and the limits of the app, Raskin showed what Ubiquity looks like when it’s part of Firefox, in which case it’s called Taskfox. In that form, the application becomes a pull-down menu that delivers command-line functionality.
However, it only recognizes a tiny number of commands at the moment, such as “wikipedia,” “video search” “calculate,” and “google”.
“We cheat,” Raskin said. “Natural language is impossible as far as I know. One advantage we have as an open source operation is that we engage with the best people in linguistics and with linguistics students.”
Despite its shortcomings, Raskin said Ubiquity is being considered for inclusion in Mozilla Firefox.
But Mozilla isn’t alone in exploring the concept. He noted that Microsoft is adding similar features to its IE browser with what it calls Accelerators.
For much of Raskin’s work, the interface model is none other than search giant Google, and Raskin said he applied lessons learned from Google to efforts like Songza, the streaming music site he developed.
There’s more we can learn as an industry by watching Google, too, he said. For starters, Raskin said the company is already beyond Web 2.0, since it can integrate advanced commands — like calculating a sum — into its simple, basic search field. This enables Google to provide advanced functions without having to rely on a screen full of confusing icons and menus, a model that Ubiquity follows with its own reliance on a command-line interface.
Google also provides the model for the revenue stream. “With Web sites, we were building destinations. Now we move away from that,” said Raskin.
Google has already done so. “Google Ad Sense gets people at the moment where intent links to action,” he said.
As for apps like Ubiquity, the solution its current limited functionality may be to digest massive amounts of data.
Computer scientist “Alan Kay said that data is ten times smarter than algorithms,” Raskin said. “We will not figure out the ontology a priori.”
People will provide the answers in a massive database consisting of the entire Internet and applications will use that database to parse commands. For example, if one person searches for flights from New York to Boston and another types “flights new york boston,” the application could use one to
solve the other.
“Google saw the Web as a people issue, not a technology issue, and examined the tags that others give us. That can be manipulated, but it’s not as easy as changing the tags on your Web site,” Raskin said.
The Web 3.0 conference is run by Mediabistro, a unit of WebMediaBrands, which also operates Internet.com, the parent network of this Web site.