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Summary:

[qi:078] Jason Calacanis launched yet another discussion of the future of the web with his official definition of web 3.0, in which web 2.0 cake is spread with a liberal frosting of people, but not just any people — “gifted” people. Aside from its introduction of […]

[qi:078] Jason Calacanis launched yet another discussion of the future of the web with his official definition of web 3.0, in which web 2.0 cake is spread with a liberal frosting of people, but not just any people — “gifted” people. Aside from its introduction of magnet-school speak into tech talk, this definition is curious in that it mentions layering. But the web is a network, or as some gifted people already knew, a “graph.” The web is less a cake needing frosting than a stew mixing everything together, allowing for the possibility of any one ingredient touching another.

Today’s version of the web, whatever you want to call it, is notable because people and hardware and information and software and conversation are all mixed together into a hyperconnected network. Maybe instead of getting tangled up in discussions of what’s web 1.0 vs. web 2.0 vs. web 3.0, we might look instead at another shift: how the web enables us to move from one era into another, from the Information Age to the Connected Age. You can see this shift both in the practices of individual workers and in the strategies of technology companies.

Knowledge Worker (Information Age) vs. Web Worker (Connected Age)

The Information Age is the age of the knowledge worker. The Connected Age is the age of the web worker. Knowledge workers create and manage information, massaging it into intangible knowledge goods. Web workers create and manage relationships across knowledge goods, hardware, and people. The table below, taken from Web Worker Daily’s upcoming book “Connect! Web Worker Daily’s Guide to a New Way of Working” contrasts knowledge work and web work. Of course, in practice individual workers may take a hybrid approach, combining aspects of both.

work-table.jpg

It’s not just individual workers, though, that take a primarily Information Age approach or Connected Age approach. Companies do too. Microsoft represents the Information Age, while Google hints at the shift towards the Connected Age.

Microsoft (Information Age) vs. Google (Connected Age)

Microsoft (MSFT) exemplifies the Information Age. It uses step-by-step, top-down controlled project management methods to build monolithic intangible goods — desktop and client/server software — largely from scratch. It uses money as currency, monetizing knowledge products using licensing fees and strict control of software copying. Microsoft must rely on protecting access to its knowledge goods — because this is where it has created value.

Google (GOOG), on the other hand, hints at the Connected Age without entirely fulfilling its promise. Google uses openly available knowledge, human, software, and hardware resources (with a good dose of its own such resources) and harvests value from those resources by finding and creating relationships. Google monetizes the human behavior on the web — human action captured in web pages as links, content and meta data. It trades in the currency of attention. Across the company, Google uses a more evolutionary development style, seeking innovation by spreading bets over many possibilities, most of which have little chance of success. Google depends on a more emergent style of innovation.

Google, however, is a gigantic corporation. Could the Connected Age make corporations obsolete, at least for purposes of web work? We need corporations for the agricultural, industrial, and knowledge tasks of our society. But an entirely new engine of productivity might be built without formal organizations. Economist Ronald Coase has proposed that the reason firms exist is to decrease transaction costs. But the web makes transaction costs across individuals and ad hoc groups of people so small as to be unimportant to many web-era businesses. That is why we see an acceleration in the number of independent contractors and loose partnerships across small organizations.

Seeing Shifts

The Connected Age concept isn’t necessarily more real or true than the term web 2.0 or web 3.0 is, but just like those, it’s useful for seeing and understanding shifts brought about by the web and shifts that the web is itself undergoing. I count myself lucky to live in a time where there’s enough progress and action to even discuss naming the shifts we see taking place.

  1. Great article, After Web2.0, we need People2.0, http://people20.blogspot.com, agrawalavinash1_at_yahoo.com : email suggestions etc and let us move forward together, Avinash

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  2. I like this comparison a lot. One of the things though that makes Google’s core value proposition so powerful is that they have monetized ‘meta data’, that is data about the data. Their most successful ventures I expect will follow this model.

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  3. Anne you wrote:

    That is why we see acceleration in the number of independent
    contractors.

    Absolutely. Plain as day. Yet Marc Andreessen giving career advice on his blog a few days ago says that centralized geographic hubs (like Silicon Valley for IT tech and New York for financial markets) still matter regardless of the Internet. Here’s the excerpt pasted below. I think someone needs to challenge Marc and his obviously biased opinion (my question is: when do the exceptions start to become the rule? Skype was created by some guys in Estonia and eBay ended up importing Skype to Silicon Valley by overpaying for it because eBay could not find a Skype equivalent produced in the U.S. / Silicon Valley area … Ruby on Rails was started by a guy in Copenhagen) … so who’s zooming who?

    http://blog.pmarca.com/2007/10/the-pmarca-gu-1.html

    In my opinion, living anywhere other than the center of your industry is
    a mistake. A lot of people — those who don’t live in that place –
    don’t want to hear it. But it’s true. Geographic locality is still — even in
    the age of the Internet — critically important if you want to maximize
    your access to the best companies, the best people, and the best
    opportunities. You can always cite exceptions, but that’s what they are:
    exceptions.

    No one cares who the top filmmaker in Chicago is — hell, people often
    don’t even care who the top filmmaker in New York is, and quite a lot
    of films get made out of New York. On the other hand, the top 50
    filmmakers in Los Angeles are all very important people in their
    industry.

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  4. An interesting corollary theme: the barriers to entry to being a Connected Age company are rapidly approaching zero. We are living amidst a Cambrian bloom of companies that are playing around with these ideas. The vast majority of non-digiterati folks with never even know that these companies existed; temporary comings together of 2, or 5, or 25 people. But we all benefit from the proliferation of ideas, especially when their birth doesn’t involve the public markets, as it did in the late nineties. The risk is now only on the shoulders of VCs, angel investors and (more than anything) the budding entrepreneurs who are giving it a go.

    It will be interesting to see how all of these ideas and companies reinvent how products are made and money is earned, and even as you imply, how businesses are even defined.

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  5. [...] Zelenka over at GigaOM just posted an interesting rumination on a shift that she says is happening. She posits that we are undergoing a transformation from an [...]

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  6. [...] blogs: thoughtful commentaries, minimum hype, no bulls**t. Here is a link to a recent article on the transition from the knowledge work to the web work. Accurate? Do you feel that the criteria for framing the discussion are the right one? [...]

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  7. [...] paalu wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerpt"I count myself lucky to live in a time where there’s enough progress and action to even discuss naming the shifts we see taking place." Yep. [...]

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  8. This is brilliant and makes me eager to buy the book, Anne! I particularly appreciate the comparison of Styles of Work in the table, because I realize that “burstiness of discontinuous productivity” is how I naturally work these days. I sometimes feel as if I “ought” to buckle down to the old step-by-step style, but that one cell in Table 1-1 explains why it’s a worry from another age. I LOVE Table 1-1!

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  9. “the web makes transaction costs across individuals and ad hoc groups of people so small as to be unimportant to many web-era businesses”.
    While the web definitely does that especially for very niche markets, it’s far for removing the biggest barrier on individual-to-individual transactions, namely trust.
    As a proof just take eBay. The only reason eBay is there is to build trust for people to close a transaction with other people. In your model eBay wouldn’t make any sense.
    BTW same thing applies to Google Adsense.

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  10. Interesting but I was a bit amused by the fact that money is “old school” and no longer matters. A very web 2.0 thought. I hope that changes for web 3.

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