Google: Is the Writing On the Wall?

14 March 2008

LONDON: In an interview with NewsCorp's august British organ The Times, the inventor of the World Wide Web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee  (pictured), believes he can see the writing on the wall for the seemingly unstoppable Google.

Not writ with an aerosol spray by the hand of Microsoft, the US government, EU regulators or Chinese child-geniuses. The beginning of the end, he predicts, will most likely be the arrival of the 'semantic web'.

The term is used by computer and internet geeks to signify the next phase of the web's development. In essence it involves building web-based connectivity into any piece of data — not just a web page — so that it can "communicate" with other information.

The semantic web will enable direct connectivity between massive volumes of low-level pieces of information – a written street address and a map for example; or a photo and a bank statement – thereby creating a platform for hitherto unthought-of new online services.

It is against such a scenario that Berners-Lee believes Google could be trumped by an (as yet unknown) cyber-pioneer which, having seized the technological high ground of web semantics, will surge past the search titan.

In similar vein, he predicts that the "current craze" for social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace will eventually be superseded by networks that connect all manner of things – not just people.

In visionary mode, Berners-Lee told The Times: "Using the semantic web, you can build applications that are much more powerful than anything on the regular web.

"Imagine if two completely separate things, your bank statements and your calendar, spoke the same language and could share information with one another. You could drag one on top of the other and a whole bunch of dots would appear showing you when you spent your money.

"If you still weren't sure of where you were when you made a particular transaction, you could then drag your photo album on top of the calendar, and be reminded that you used your credit card at the same time you were taking pictures of your kids at a theme park. So you would know not to claim it as a tax deduction.

"In the semantic web, it's like every piece of data is given a longitude and latitude on a map, and anyone can 'mash' them together and use them for different things … it's about creating a seamless web of all the data in your life."

Although he declined to make any detailed predictions as to the type of application the "Google of the future" might develop, Berners-Lee thought it would likely be a "mega-mash-up", using the web to take information from one place and make it relevant in another context.

These days a director of the Web Science Research Initiative, a collaborative project between the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the UK's University of Southampton, Tim B-L as he is known stateside, invented the World Wide Web in 1989 while a fellow at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research in Switzerland. 

  • Meantime, back in the here and now, Google continues to conjure new ways of earning an extra billion or three – the latest of which, Ad Manager, enables web publishers to manage their online ad sales and serve up relevant ads each time a surfer beaches on a new web page.

    The offering is seen as an early sign of Google's plans to broaden its ad services following the completion this week of its $3.1 billion DoubleClick acquisition.

  • Data sourced from The Times (UK) and Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff