The end of the web as the way to access information ?

Internet is a wonderful tool for information sharing and collaboration and the web is most easy and efficient way to access it. As a matter of fact, many people equally use both words but they don’t refer to the same thing. One is the network , the infrastructure, the other a protocol making it easy to use it with interfaces anybody can use. Mrs Anybody and most of us would have been incapable of using the original internet before Tim Berners-Lee and Robert Cailliau “invented” the web.

The web is what has made internet usable by all of us. It makes it easy to share and find information, to interact with others. Either in a personal or business context, there’s one thing in common : we must go to a page, using a browser, to do anything. To share, find, use, exchange. Should anyone launch a new service for the general public or deploy a new application in the workplace, the first challenge is to make people go to its page. One of the biggest barriers to new practices supported by new kinds of applications in the workplace is to make people leave their usual applications to go to do something new in a browser.

But it seems that this era will soon be behind us. The web as an interface between people and information will soon be a bygone era.

The concept of content is not relevant anymore

There’s a word I really can’t stand in the web culture : “content”. “ Mr so-and-so  published a content”, “one must produce content”. Enough ! I don’t care about content, what I need is information and information is content in context. The word “content” has been perverted by two categories of people. Marketers and site editors who need to fill spaces to get trafic and monetize it. Technology people because they think “application first” and that applications are containers. The idea of content makes us think about containers and it’s not relevant anymore. Content can be somewhere and information elsewhere, where the content is displayed in context, and even enriched. The content can be in wikipedia and the information in a dashboard where I asked IBM Watson a question in natural language.

Last autumn I spoke at the AIIM Executive Leadership Council and that’s the conclusion we came to. The container is not relevant anymore. There is no content anymore but data. And if the web est perfect to put contents in, it’s less when it comes to data. And tomorrow we’ll use more and more data that don’t need to be entered by humans but will be directly send to the systems that will process them without having humans entering them through an interface. Why should a go to a site to say that I ran 10 km while my running shoes have sensors that do it on my behalf ? Why should I enter the numbers written on my electricity meter if, once connected, the meter can send the data ? More broadly, why should I go to a page to document and tell what I did since because I did it it’s already stored somewhere in some ways, as data that just need need to be used. Example with an enterprise social network : “I had a meeting with Mr So-and-so and we said that…”. The meeting is in the Calendar, the notes in Evernote, Google, Office or somewhere else. Why should I use one more tool to tell what’s already available.

Moving from content to data means one thing : we’re not looking for raw material anymore. Should the material be raw data or unstructured information in natural languages, it does not meet our need but is only a tool to meet it. What we need is information, insight, which requires discovery, correlation, shaping. It’s the principle of cognitive computing.

The model in which we used to search data and content to ourselves work out a solution is close to its death. Information will become “as a services” (the actionable answer to a question) and will come “as an answer” where and when we need it. Using an interface to search content will soon be an habit from the past. Either information will be pushed or we’ll ask a question in natural language in a cognitive system but we won’t have to search for the raw material. Imagine a mix of IBM Watson, Siri and Google Now. Information will come sometimes on our laptop screen, or smartphones, glasses and connected watches, written or spoken.

We’re moving to using to web to having internet servicing us.

Most of what we call collaboration is using people to replace deficient search engines

So the web won’t be anymore the interface through which we share and find information. But what about collaboration ? Most of the answer is in the previous paragraphs. Most of what we call collaboration – especially in the workplace – consists of throwing messages in bottles, hoping that someone will come with an information he knows or knows where it’s stored. Many businesses think they have a collaboration and sharing problem while they have a search problem.

In what we can call “data-centric” computing or cognitive computing we’ll make the most of any existing data. Today, data exist somewhere but are poorly indexed (or not indexed at all) and not globally. That prevents us from correlating them, making sense of them and, in the end, providing users not with links to sources but with answers. We’ll also stop using our colleagues as search engines and that will be a good thing for productivity and focus at work.

It’s the only way for anyone to survive in the ocean of data we’re producing.

This may end convincing you that we need a smart way to manage information and the way we access it.

29 Signs of Digital Disruption – Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires

You should also have a look at these slides of Alan Lepovsky on the future of collaboration.

[slideshare id=40362654&doc=dreamforce2014whatsnextinsocialbusiness-141016123241-conversion-gate02]

I love the idea of “purposeful collaboration”. Today collaboration only means fixing what tools can’t do. With what’s coming, we’ll be able to focus more on purposeful collaboration instead of being the poor’s man search engine.

The future of collaboration will be more about analytics than content.

Web was the crafts age, now we’re entering the industrial age

Web was the “crafts step” of a collective intelligence system that works at scale. We generate and handle too much data to have to enter, search or make sense of them. We’re entering the industrial era. I advise you to read this excellent article from the MIT Sloan Review. From the very beginning of digitization we’ve focused on web interactions. The next step is about analytics, sensors, connected objects and automation. It’s already started and we’d better draw all the consequences ASAP.

By the way, tomorrow you won’t read this blog or others anymore. You’ll ask a question and get an answer, synthesis of things written by me, Sameer, Anthony, Ray and others.

Image Credit : web interactions via Shutterstock

Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler

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