The World Wide Web is an odd assemblage of millions of different websites, ideas, and corresponding communities. While many of these sites may have overlapping content and similar form, each offers something slightly different. In some instances the difference is obvious, in others it’s not. Previously, the web has been thought of as one giant interconnected spider web. While an excellent way to visualize the web this type of visualization has limitations, especially as the web has evolved and grown more complex and segmented. Within the greater web, secondary communities have formed. Each of these sub communities has different needs, focuses, and user populations. In order to continue the forward march of progress we need to consider the words of the philosopher Henri Bergson,
“The eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend”
Recently an enormous amount of energy has been invested in exploring the future of the web and ways to improve it. As a result, ideas like Web 2.0 and the Semantic Web have exploded onto the scene. Despite these major advances in web content and structure, most of the research being done still views the web as one uniform entity. Because of the customizability of web communities and the way they have evolved, I believe the concept of “web spheres” needs to be considered and explored. Only by expanding and re-examining the way we view the web, will we truly be prepared to work on re-developing and properly understanding the needs of the web community. As Buddha said,
“We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts we make the world”
In order to build the web of the future, we first need to understand the makeup and needs of the web of today. While the greater web metaphor is still very relevant, examination needs to take into account the varied uses and structure of general websites. To that end, I’ve identified six initial spheres (if you have additional spheres, please suggest them), these are: The Business Web, the Gaming Web, the Media Web, the Social Web, the Adult Web and the Research Web. Each of these spheres shares common elements and infrastructure. Some also share their users. Each of these spheres has it’s own unique needs and culture. For example, consider the differences in how language is adapted/written in each of these spheres and how that shapes the community associated with it. Evolved and adapted language is just the start. In addition to the individual sphere’s voice another major difference differentiating the spheres is technology.
There are two key elements to consider when exploring a web sphere’s technological needs. One is the sphere’s operational needs; things like security, data exchange, view ability, codec compression etc. These are core technologies that facilitate efficient operation by the websites that exist in each sphere. The second key element is the web sphere’s user base; the computer competency of the average user, the power of the user’s Internet connection, and the computing power of their machine.
The following are brief working definitions to start the thought process:
The Business Web – Members of this sphere typically focus on the general accessibility of their website, stability, documentation, basic data exchange. They avoid unneeded bells and whistles and focus on providing a streamlined product. The goal is to look clean, sharp, efficient while selling a product and documenting a process.
The Gaming Web – Members of this sphere typically focus on presentation and data exchange. Their target audience has powerful machines, fast connections, and a need for leading edge graphics, video, audio, and web design. Their other needs focus on forum and chat software that builds community. The final key component is easily navigated, scalable, user created databases.
The Social Web – Members of this sphere typically focus on user contributed data and networking elements. Key elements typically focus on ease of use, neatness of display, available space and infrastructure to facilitate sharing and communication. Prime examples of this web are facebook.com and myspace.com.
The Media Web – Members of this sphere focus on one-way data presentation with limited feedback. Infrastructure typically focuses on the ability to deal with large bandwidth loads, with minimal technical requirements. Some new elements of the media web are focusing on user submissions such as youtube.com but still limit feedback. This sphere includes both entertainment media and news media websites.
The Adult Web – Members of this sphere focus on providing still pictures, video, and chat in easily accessible formats. Concerns are data protection, subscription/service management, and data security. Verification technology is a major element. While the bulk of sites in this category are erotic/pornographic in nature, it also includes general content not suitable for all audiences.
The Research Web – Members of this sphere focus on providing well-documented, searchable databases. This content is predominantly provided in presentation/examination format. Key elements include the ability to search large public records databases, documentation, anti-plagiarism technology, searchable subscription databases, and collaboration tools.
It is important to keep in mind that these are general descriptions, which are overly specific but which I believe will serve as an initial sounding board for future discourse.
Consider – by adding a basic web sphere designation to websites, search engines could allow users to search within specific sphere(s). This would allow users to limit/expand their search results easily and help deal with the current information overload stemming from irrelevant search results. Need a business site? Search the business sphere. Need media content? Limit search results to the media sphere.