The New Web”, “Web 3.0”, the “2010 Web”… there seems to be a new name for the future of the online world every other day. Bloggers, journalists, and industry analysts each have their own version of what the future will look like both for developers and consumers of online information, but what does this all mean for the every day user or for that matter, the church?
One thing for certain is that there is a definitive shift in the world of online information, and much like the shift from the late 1990’s (commonly referred to as “Web 1.0”) to present, the changes are significant. Before we can look ahead though, it’s important to look at the foundational elements and catalytic forces at work that are pushing these trends.
First a little history and definition. At turn of the decade, online companies were a dime a dozen, failing at a rapid pace, and the online business market had grown to an over-saturated state leading to the infamous dot-com bust of the late 1990’s.
The Information Age had come to full maturity, resulting in a drastic reduction of barriers to developing an online space. The development world reached a point at which anyone with a little bit of knowledge could build a website leading to many bad websites that were poorly constructed, poorly designed, or both. In addition, information was handled in a centralized manner which gave little incentive to users to make repeated visits to web sites, much less interact with content publishers.
Compounding the problem were technological restrictions of connection speed as well as widespread computer illiteracy which prevented the majority of potential users to commit to an active participation in the web world. The result of this was a “broken” system – broken in the sense that the static strategy was unsuccessful at retaining and attracting new users.
Web 2.0 at the root is a fundamental shift in how publishers and users interact with each other and consume information online. Instead of pages sitting stagnant with unchanging content, authors publish content on a periodic basis in order to entice information consumers to return.
With this shift to dynamic content came the development of tools that decentralized information distribution to better accomplish web publishing – thus the advent of blogging software such as WordPress, Drupal, Blogspot, and the frameworks they are built upon (.php, .asp, Ruby on Rails, etc.). Dynamic content became even more decentralized with user interaction through forums, comments, and eventually, co-authorship.
As it became easier to publish content, information consumers became information publishers, and crafted their own online space around their activities. As momentum grew, developers took note and made efforts to make it even easier to publish content by providing web-publishing solutions that ranged from desktop applications to web based WYSIWYG (what-you-see-is-what-you-get) applications for pushing content to the web.
Creating a website today is as simple as purchasing an account with a hosting company and pressing a “Wordpress” button, or signing up for a free service through Google, WordPress, or Typepad. Add on top of all of this Facebook, Twitter, and other social media tools, and we have a wide open world of an estimated 82 million content generating users publishing daily in the US alone.
This is where we stand today. An immeasurable amount of data being created on a daily basis, consumed and commented on by millions, regenerated, repopulated, and archived. The question is, what’s next?
The future of the web world is all about context and building upon that context to arrive at meaning. The shift that is occurring in the online world is, in fact, reflective of a larger shift in society as a whole. This is most commonly referred to as the transfer from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age, and the implications are much more significant than we know. The future of which we speak is a future in which creating content is not enough, but searching that content, synthesizing that content, bringing meaning to that content, is what will matter.
This future is one where things like design and storytelling will matter more than facts and data, and in many ways, they already do. It won’t be enough to simply publish blog posts, but one will have to bring clarity to those posts by targeting them to an intended audience and serving them with information that is meaningful to them. It won’t be enough to network with people on Twitter or Facebook, but one will have to intentionally build relationships around interests, goals, and shared information, causes, agendas, and so forth. These trends are already reflected in content delivery products like Hulu (hulu.com), and the Journey Log (jLog.com). The world is becoming more academic, agile, customizable, on-demand, and the web of the future will need to satisfy the need for the interpersonal connections, contextualized information, and specialized content that meets people where they are at.
This is where the church comes in. As communicators of the Gospel, we already specialize in interpersonal relationships, context, and targeted content. Our goal to reach people who don’t know Jesus is completely compatible with meeting people where they are at, but for too long we have been content to maintain our comfort by creating our own culture in which we have a safe place to reside – resisting tools the Web 2.0 or social networking world has to offer on the basis of tradition or stale methodology.
Considering the average person today likely primarily communicates via email and text messaging, has a Facebook account, and does the majority of information searching through Google, our responsibility to our call to reach the lost is to leverage technology for that purpose.
Of course, the church in the Web 3.0 world will look different from organization to organization. Our church (capitalchristian.com) has chosen to use video, blogging, audio podcasting, Facebook, and Twitter as the tools on which we communicate with our online relationships. Other churches may use Myspace, Webinars, or even obscure services like Second Life (secondlife.com) to reach people where they are at. Whatever the strategy, whatever the tool – remember that the methodology isn’t sacred, but the fundamental goal to bring the lost to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ is. The world of Web 3.0 will look different from 4.0, 5.0, and beyond, but the central tenet never changes.