Web 2.0 is hot — both today and tomorrow

IBM web futurist David Boloker says Web 2.0 may be hyped but it will change the way we view and use the web

Looking into the future of the internet is David Boloker’s job as chief technology officer of IBM’s emerging internet technology software group.

“There are some things that can pretty much be guaranteed [in the future],” he told Computerworld on a recent visit to New Zealand. “For example, user interfaces will get better over time.”

In ten years, user interfaces on the internet will be very similar to today’s world of gaming, he says.

“We’ll have the same high quality graphics, and the underlying messaging sub-system. The requirements for a high quality game today will be the norm of the internet.”

IBM’s emerging internet technology group investigates internet trends and sometimes, he admits, it invents trends.

“Basically, we look at trends that our customers are experiencing, in terms of issues or changing paradigms in, for example, web, business or legal processes. Things are changing rapidly around us,” he says.

Boloker’s team is linked to IBM’s services group, Jump Start. Technology that the emerging technology group works on is brought to customers for early adoption through Jump Start.

“We are engaging customers around the world because we need a lot of customer input when we are looking at what relationships we need to make between data,” he says.

Boloker says that his team, as well as IBM in general, is focusing on two distinct areas: the web space with the drag-and-drop web development technique Ajax, and situational applications.

“Situational applications are a way for people with domain expertise to create applications in a very short time — the whole idea is in less than five minutes.”

Issues that IT managers deal with on a day-to-day basis require more and more applications to be written, he says.

“Often they need to be written immediately, if not sooner”.

Two things are at the core of situational applications: SOA (service-oriented architecture) and what Boloker calls “enterprise mash-up services”. Some people in the industry say the hype around SOA is created by IBM, he says.

“But the reality is that [SOA] is where businesses need to be to be able to work on inter-relationships between enterprises, as well as inter-relationships between systems,” he says.

He gives as an example a fictitious hardware chain whose business is strongly affected by weather. Different products are sought depending on whether it’s warm or cold, if there is a storm coming or if there was frost overnight. Through an “enterprise mash-up” system, the business could get integrated information about real-time weather conditions and what the hardware chain currently has in stock. The system could also bring in other information, such as patterns in customers’ purchasing.

“You take a piece of data from here and a piece of data from there, but on the screen it’s integrated,” says Boloker.

Google Earth is an example of such a system, he says. It combines satellite imagery, maps and information from its search engine.

These second generation web services are part of the buzzword Web 2.0, he says.

“Web 2.0 is a new class of affordable apps [that] are becoming do-able, delivering instantaneous value such as mash-ups and programmable web,” says Boloker.

“Web 2.0 is comprised of everything from Ajax to social software, for example blogs and wikis; to a focus on simplicity, to microformats.”

But is it just a buzzword that could incorporate almost anything that is hot and trendy on the web?

“Web 2.0 is not hype, but, obviously, any technology can get ‘bid up’ so much by so many people so quickly that it can’t realistically live up to its possibilities and the industry might take years to fulfill some of those possibilities,” says Boloker.

He says Web 2.0 exists to some extent already but it is evolving every day.

“As Ajax is changing our view of web applications, Web 2.0 will change the way we look at web socialisation, mash-ups and usability.”

In the future, people are going to be able to build applications very quickly, he says.

“Enterprises will talk to enterprises on the fly. Consumers will talk to enterprises and get information without even knowing it. Content will come to you dynamically.”

Broadband and wireless will become one, and the wireless devices we have today will converge, he says

“Convergence will occur. In some cases it is already occuring — music is already finding its way to phones, there is instant messaging on phones. We are also going to see video on phones.”

Another area that both Boloker’s group and IBM focus on is enabling technologies for disabled people.

Boloker’s team was recently involved in creating graphics for the open source Mozilla Firefox browser and adding accessibility to it.

“My group has, within the W3C [World Wide Web Consortium], worked on what I call the next generation of disability standards for the web.”

Why does a giant like IBM care about web accessibility for people with sight, hearing and learning disabilities?

“Because almost every single person has some kind of disability. I have a learning disability. I learned at a very early age that I can’t add certain sequences of numbers, so I always add one more than that, and I have no idea why it is that way,” says Boloker, who has a masters degree in mathematics.

He says web access for the disabled is an important area because it also involves making the web accessible for older people.

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