SAN FRANCISCO -- Web 2.0 Expo -- At a keynote session this afternoon, Tim O'Reilly, founder of O'Reilly Media, said that the Web is like a little baby: As it gets older, it gets smarter.
Five years into this crazy little thing called the Web 2.0 conference (co-produced by O'Reilly and TechWeb), O'Reilly asked his audience to ponder whether the Web has gotten any smarter -- or if it's more like those idiot babies that just drool and soil their pants (he may have articulated this differently...).
"A newborn baby sees and hears but can't make sense of all sensations," said O'Reilly. "If we think of the Web as a newborn baby, we have to ask, is the Web getting any smarter?"
To that, O'Reilly replied that the answer was "Def Not" and then we all went home.
Kidding. April Fool's. Ha.
Anyway... to analyze the question, O'Reilly first referenced the history of search, pointing to an early search engine page in March 1994 which crawled "all of 5,900 sites" -- 2,000 of which were using HTTP.
"This is a stage when the search engine stuck everything in its mouth and said 'What is this thing?'" said O'Reilly (another baby reference). "In 1998, when Google was launched, Google was indexing 25 million pages," he said, adding that this was evidence of the baby becoming more
devious complex, extracting meaning from pages by studying link structure of the Web.
Really hammering away at the baby analogy, O'Reilly then described Google's iPhone application which uses speech recognition and location sensors to deliver, say, the nearest pizza place, as the onset of "hand-eye coordination."
"The baby we built with technology is growing up, starting to go to work, and getting beyond the world which is just for fun."
(Interestingly omitted from the analogy was the way both the Web and babies demand obscene amounts of attention and rarely ever produce any ROI -- also an uncanny similarity. But I digress...)
From here on out, said O'Reilly, moving from the baby topic to the recession, we need to learn to use this Web-baby thing to solve the world's problems and develop more from less (because we're all poor now).
"The whole basis of our economy is more will be spent, things will be bigger and cost more, the economy will grow. Yet in technology we have this wonderful power of less where we get more for the same amount. We need to start thinking, how do we apply Moore's Law to the world's great problems?" said O'Reilly.
One example of applying the "less is more" strategy, he said, is a site called PatientsLikeMe, a social network for people with life-altering illnesses which also acts as a clinical trial and post-clinical trial, allowing people to report on the success of their treatments.
"Something that costs a drug company tens of millions of dollars is being done by people themselves. That's part of the power we have to take techniques we've developed on the consumer Internet and start to apply them to big, hard problems," he said.
"We in the Web community know this wonderful flowering of innovation is something we've created together," said O'Reilly. "I want you all to take that as your mission to continue to create, invent, and make value for this challenged world of ours."
And don't forget to burp your Web after meals.
— Nicole Ferraro, Site Editor, Internet Evolution