Tim O’Reilly: 5 Technologies That Make The Web Smarter


Tim O’Reilly, co-founder of the Web 2.0 Conference, gave a short address on the 5th anniversary of that event at tonight’s Web 2.0 Expoin San Francisco and offered some thoughts on what’s going to come next. He discussed five applications that he believes point the way.

Two themes stood out: sensors will surpass humans in front of their keyboards as the primary data source on the web and Moore’s Law will need to be applied to humanity’s greatest problems.

It’s time for the Web to get smarter, O’Reilly said. Having just become a grandfather, he drew a parallel between the evolution of the web and human development. The early days of search engines were like a child just putting things in its mouth, wondering what they are. Now the web is starting to use all of its senses together to do do something with the information it has access too. Here’s where he’s seeing that happen.

1. Google Voice Search on the iPhone

Google launched an iPhone app in November that lets you search by voice. It uses the iPhone’s built in sensors in ways that other voice searches can’t. It’s not just voice recognition, it’s also gesture recognition – the application starts listening when you put the phone to your face. O’Reilly asked, rhetorically, if the service was “a tipping point for the web” when it launched and it’s still on his short list of key technologies today.

2. Gracenote’s CDDB


The CDDB, or Compact Disk Database, isn’t new but it could become much less anomalous in the near term future. As O’Reilly explained on stage tonight, the service identifies CDs by looking at the unique fingerprint created by the duration of songs in any collection on a commercial music CD. It doesn’t identify individual songs but rather analyzes the aggregate data on albums in order to identify the collection.

See also the non-profit MusicBrainz.

3. AMEE Smart Grid

The AMEE smart electrical grid company tracks energy use in customers’ homes and offers all kinds of valuable information based on what they see. TechCrunch UK called it “like an OpenID for your carbon footprint” in its coverage of O’Reilly’s investment in the company.



O’Reilly said tonight that much like CDs in the CDDB, AMEE has discovered that the energy fluctuations of home appliances are so unique that they can tell what make and model of refrigerator you have by the way it acts when the motor turns on. Then it can suggest a more energy efficient appliance.

4. The NASA/CISCO Planetary Skin


NASA and CISCO unveiled plans last month to build what they call a Planetary Skin of sensors to monitor global climate change. The ability to process all the information that will come in through such a network of sensors is a good example of what O’Reilly called “applying Moore’s Law to the world’s biggest problems.”


5. IBM Smarter Planet


O’Reilly highlighted the IBM Smarter Planet project in his talk about the future tonight. Smarter Planet is a broad body of initiatives by IBM to integrate efficient technology into a wide variety of systems around the world. Much of it is public infrastructure work.

Last week IBM announced that it would make bringing its channel partners into the Smarter Planet project a major priority and that it will be sharing the huge amounts of data it collects through the initiatives with channel partners as well.

Those are Tim O’Reilly’s favorite examples of technologies that point beyond the last five years of the Web 2.0 era. Have you got other examples in the same vein? Perhaps you’ve got a different big picture vision of the next stage of the web. This fifth anniversary of the first Web 2.0 Conference is a great time to reflect on where we are as a web connected world and where we’re going.






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