Epic Mismanagement
The Coming Storm

Web 3.0?

The Transactional Web

Terminology is a slippery commodity. And especially when viewed over time. The meanings we assign to words evolve. Contending meanings battle it out for dominance and frequently there is no clear winner left standing when the dust settles. Now what is true of language in general seems to be doubly true for the words we use in the technology field. And ironically it is three times as true when we look at what we mean by the moniker "Web 3.0". 

It is ironic because early on, say 15 years ago, when we said "Web 3.0", and very few people did, we typically meant the "Semantic Web". Although the ideas behind the semantic web predated it, the explosive rise of Social Media effectively usurped the title of "Web 2.0". So this left us with Web 3.0 for the Semantic Web - a web where the meanings associated with data representations are described with a precision that machines could "easily" traverse and process them. We had in fact been looking at this semantic web as far back as the late 1990s. As one example, at a conference in Boston in 2000, Tim Berners-Lee and I held a kick-off town hall meeting that was all about introducing more "meaning" into the web so that people and machines could do more together. One of the diagrams that Tim used to describe the semantic web follows:

Tim Berners-Lee's Original Vision for a Semantic Web

One of the reasons I find Tim's original diagram to be interesting is the prominence it places on "trust" which, in retrospect, probably deserved an even more prominent treatment. Indeed, if there is one thing missing from our digital world, or from our world in general, it is trust. Putting that aside for a moment, we can also note that the prominence placed on "trust" connects us to another usage made of the "Web 3.0" moniker - one that has since elbowed the "semantic web" out of the way. This is the usage of Web 3.0 to refer to the blockchain revolution and the notion of an open, and irrefutable, ledger of transactions. It is true that the hold that the semantic web held on the Web 3.0 title was tenuous at best so this change feels somewhat inevitable. Basically, despite much energy being expended on it and with many people, including many of my friends, falling hopefulessly in love with all things "graph" (there is even one friend who I nicknamed a "graph with a beard"), the semantic web, as a thing, never took off. 

It turns out that the same thing has been happening to the more recent use of Web 3.0 as a label for the blockchain revolution. While it was claimed, or hoped, that blockchain technology would dramatically reform sectors such as finance, and for some actors like North Korea it most definitely has, its impact has been limited. So this usage of Web 3.0 hasn't really taken root either. Nevertheless, we should acknowledge the recent (2023) book by Alex Tapscott and its valiant terminological efforts.

Web3-0 by Alex Tapscott

I should come clean at this point. I have something of a vested interest in the use that is made of "Web 3.0". As is evidenced in my past post about "Content 4.0" one of the 1.0 to 4.0 rubrics I work with traces a history of the Web from 1.0 to 2.0, onto 3.0, and yes even points towards a 4.0. Being a child of the early days of the web, I naturally gravitated to the older use of "Web 3.0" for the semantic web even though I was familiar, through a number of projects, with both the potential and the pitfalls of blockchain technologies. Nevertheless, as I am also a child of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), I am both inclined to respect the changing patterns in word usage and to find ways to reconcile contending meanings. This has led me to propose a new positioning for "Web 3.0" and to unilaterally adopt it.

Henceforth, I think it is worth using "Web 3.0" to refer to the "Transactional Web". I had considered the "Data Web" which isn't bad but "transactional" captures both the data orientation, with a focus on its processability, and its practical application. And as with Tim Berners-Lee's original vision for the semantic web, and as manifest in the DNA of Blockchain Technologies, the trust element continues to loom large when we place a spotlight on the transactions - on the things that actually happen and for which somebody is, or should be, accountable. This is a useful fusion of the two preceeding usages we have noted for Web 3.0, and I think it will figure prominently in my own rubric going forward. 

Transactional Web 3.0


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Marcia Riefer Johnston

Intriguing. I'd like to hear more of your thoughts, such as examples of the kind of transactions you're talking about—these "things that actually happen and for which somebody is, or should be, accountable." And what does "accountable" mean in this context?

Joe Gollner

Hi Marcia

Great question. I could take it in so many directions.

We can start with the word "transaction" where "action" is immediately noticeable. That means, for me at least, a deliberate event that changes the state of something. So like applying a credit to your account ledger to settle an invoice or the closing of a sale. Thinking about it further, both of these little examples showcase a change in control or ownership with a balancing form of consideration. Another example might be less mercantile, say sharing an idea online - although, again, there would be an exchange at work here too.

What I was trying to do is to highlight that there is a difference (albeit a fine one) between a collection of data that has been assembled for analysis (say historical information) and the environment where events occur, generating data as a consequence but also effects that change something. When we think of an Internet of Things (IoT), we can visualize this as instructions & algorithms being issued and machines perking up and swinging into action as a result - perhaps then gobbling up data from their domains and acting according to the guidance provided. The provision of guidance is an catalytic action from which a cascade of consequent actions flow. It gets a little fuzzy when we acknowledge that a semantic web populated with data is itself meaningful and it can, just by what it contains, guide the actions of any agent, human or otherwise, that interacts with it. And the data reflects the trace of past actions. Data are not neutral, ever. But actions have impacts and impacts need "owners". Of course, how do we match owners to impacts, assigning responsibility? Data, of course.

More obscurely, and annoyingly, I have also been working a lot on "knowledge" (for reasons best kept secret for the moment) and on the dynamic relationship between existing knowledge (precedence), decision (actions), experience (phenomena), data (representations), information (communication) and new knowledge. The movement through decisions > actions > events > experience and then back up into information exchanges establishes, among other things, responsibility. Without this dynamic, and the role played by the assignment of responsibility for outcomes (effects), then the process whereby knowledge emerges and evolves breaks down. Nothing all that revolutionary, although to survey some of the modern academic literature on the topic you might come to see it as revolutionary.

In this latest "Crazy Joe" adventure, I was provoked by the delightful Reg Revans (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reg_Revans), one of the very first professors of management who came to criticize the academy in often scathing terms. He is known for introducing the idea of "action learning" as a way to try out ideas and theories in real, operational ways, and then to learn from the consequences - like getting into trouble, breaking something, losing something, sending the union into fits of rage. I think he was onto more than we appreciate and even his anti-academic vitriol starts to ring true given the evident importance he placed on having the people who are responsible, the managers themselves, performing the action learning - not the consultants or experts who don't "feel" the consequences in the same way. Actions > Events > Consequences > Responsibility > Learning.

I better stop here. I think my comment is longer than my original post. Typical.

G.I. Joe - Action Figure

Marcia Riefer Johnston

There’s no one like you, G.I. Joe. Keep ‘em coming.

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