Thursday, October 18, 2007

Future of The Web

For the past few weeks, I've been thinking about what makes a web site good which led me to think about what web sites in the future will be like. To be clear, when I say web sites, I really mean web applications and services (such as GMail, Digg, Amazon, etc.) Anyway, I've convinced myself that web sites in the future will be intelligent, they'll be aware of the user's desires and make it easier for him/her to access it. For example, I want Digg to eventually realize that when I visit Digg, I usually read the Technology category, the Science category, and two of my friends' recent diggs. If it knows that I do this, which isn't that complicated of a statistic, it can provide me with a little toolbar for me to quickly access those pages. This can be accomplished by having 3-4 bookmarks to each of these pages in my browser, but what happens when I have several quick links for several web sites?

There are a few things that have been around for a while that I think are great ideas and that can be expanded and used elsewhere. Amazon's product suggestions for example, they take what you've looked at and what you've bought and figure out what they think you might like to buy. Great idea, but can it be improved? Can we make the suggestion engine a standard to be used for other sites? Although I have had plenty of suggestions from Amazon that have been way off and were just a waste of bandwidth, I think that an improved suggestion engine has a lot of potential for a lot of sites. I'm not sure how Amazon calculates suggestions, but there are a lot of potential criterion that they could base it on. They could see that if your browsing session seems to be focused on one type of product or if it's just random browsing. They could see if you are spending lots of time on product pages for TVs and determine that you're seriously interested in buying a TV. Maybe even take the number of reviews that your browser stayed focused on and use that as a metric of interest. Imagine if Amazon was able to figure out that you were only interested in buying a LCD TV instead of a Plasma TV because you were looking at only LCDs and several of them, they could stop suggesting Plasmas. Or if you were only looking at Sony, they would know not to suggest a Mitsibushi TV.

Another site that I think could use a great suggestion engine is Digg. I would really love it if Digg stopped showing me Microsoft and KDE articles, because I genuinely don't care. I'm logged in and I never digg or click on those, why show 'em? Also, what if Digg expanded their digg/bury paradigm to include clicks and mouse overs? What if it used my diggs, clicks and mouse overs to match me with other users with similar interests and then it could even be more powerful with its suggestions. Of course, I'd still want to be able to see all the articles as I can now.

The last thing that I hope to see in the future of the web is more relevant usage of user information and popularity. I think that web sites should by all means have a way of rating users, either on their original contributions, helpfulness or comments, but don't use that rating to simply promote or reward that user and give them popularity because that will become their goal. The eventual goal behind rating a user should be to help yourself and other users get better results or suggestions in the future, not to see who has the most posts or is the most popular. I think sites that allow users to compete for a "most active" or "most popular" or "best rated" position just end up encouraging users to spam to get that title.

What do you think? What will become of web applications? What will they do differently than they do now?