We've discussed before on Read/WriteWeb about how we've entered The Digestion Phase of the Web, a term that Alex Iskold coined. He defined it as "a period of time for us to reflect, to integrate, and to understand recent technologies and how they fit together." Tim O'Reilly has also been reflecting on how innovation has slowed down and consolidation is occuring. But something doesn't sit right with me when we start talking about reflection and consolidation. Both of those things are happening, for sure -- and much of today's tech news and blog coverage is about M&A and how big Internet companies are integrating web 2.0 features. Which is precisely the problem! It's not nearly as interesting as Web innovation. I can't be the only person bored with the tech blogosphere these days. How can we - as bloggers, entreprenuers, businesspeople - get back to thinking about actual innovation?
A lot of the Web technology that has inspired me in recent months is Mobile Web apps and the Semantic Apps we're beginning to see blossom on the Web. Also, like Tim O'Reilly, I find myself increasingly interested in what is bubbling up from China and other international markets. It's not to say Silicon Valley isn't still fascinating (Google's OpenSocial and Android initiatives were both fine developments), but there are new innovations and markets that are in many ways far more interesting than what is happening in Silicon Valley.
So in an attempt to break through to the other side, I've set myself the task of investigating 'the next wave' of Web innovation. It's something all our writers look for - e.g. Marshall Kirkpatrick's superb analysis of the Twitter ecosystem (and Twitter is certainly innovative and something to watch), and Josh Catone's analysis of facial recognition platforms. So what else is out there in terms of Web innovation?
Where Web Innovation is Happening - All Over the World, in Certain Segments
Tangos Chan of China Web2.0 Review posted a very interesting set of slides that he presented at an event organized by Orange Lab, called "Web 2.0 in China: What's Next?". He first makes the point that China's Web scene is not just made up of copycat sites - he says that phenomonem is happening all over the world. Then Tangos reveals some areas of innovation in China:
Image via Tangos Chan
When you think about it, the above list of current Web innovations could easily belong to any other country - including the US. Real or near time communications technologies (online forum, IM, etc) are a hot area of innovation currently; and again I point you to Marshall's Twitter post. In Rebecca MacKinnon's excellent summary of recent China Web 2.0 events, she points to Tangos' comments on a couple of Chinese IM services of interest: Anothr and Jiwai. Anothr delivers RSS feeds to your IM client (it started out in Skype, but now supports others), while Jiwai is a similar service to Twitter.
Mobile Web has been on everyones list of 'The Next Big Thing' for a long time. The (potential) market is undeniably huge. Noted Mobile author Tomi T Ahonen blogged earlier this year that there are 2.7 billion mobile phones in the world. To put that in perspective: there are 800 million cars, 850 million personal computers, 1.3 B fixed landline phones, 1.4 billion credit cards, 1.5 billion TV sets. Tomi's post is from January, so the figures will have changed since then - but the point remains that Mobile Web is where a lot of innovation will happen, simply because that's where the users are. It's also well known that China, Japan, Korea and other parts of Asia are very heavy Mobile users - often at the expense of the PC.
There will of course be amalgams of current trends with near future ones - e.g. Tomi Ahonen noted in an October post that the mobile social networking market is worth $5 billion now. This is apparently bigger than the current revenue derived from browser-based social networks. Or as Jason Grigsby put it, "today's big thing-social networks-is already bigger on mobile devices than on PCs." [incidentally I got the last few links from Marshall Kirkpatrick's Twitter stream!]
A couple of innovative and well-liked Mobile Web apps I posted about recently are Fring and Shozu. Fring is a free mobile VoIP software, that lets you connect to all your IM services and talk for free when connected to 3G or Wi-Fi. Shozu enables you to send your videos and photos from your phone to the Web - e.g. your Flickr account, YouTube, Facebook. Plus the big Internet companies of the West are ramping up in mobile - particularly Google.
In his slides, Tangos mentioned mInfo - a natural language mobile search service that works through WAP and SMS.
This is all to say: there's a lot of innovation happening in the Mobile Web right now. They're not digesting or consolidating, they're inventing!
I'll discuss more about Mobile, Semantic Apps and other areas of innovation in future posts, but the one main point I want to make here: there is a ton of Web innovation happening out there. Beyond The Digestion Phase, beyond Consolidation, beyond Silicon Valley. Those things are all necessary and interesting, but beyond all that there is exciting innovation happening in the Mobile space, in places like China and Korea, in real-time communications platforms like Twitter, etc.
When I was at the Mobile 2.0 conference in October, one of the presenters made a joke about how their small 1-day event compared to the much bigger Web 2.0 Summit being held later that week. The presenter said something like: "in 10 years time it'll be the reverse: Mobile 2.0 will get the big crowds and Web 2.0 Summit will be the niche conference." [it was said much more wittily at the time!]. That to me sums up the enthusiasm I see in Mobile Web and other segments. That enthusiasm is missing from other segments of Web technology, or at least in the coverage they receive in tech blogs (RWW included sometimes) -- where X startup gets a new soclal networking feature! (yawn!), or X gets $X funding (who cares), or X is acquired by Y, or worse, X is rumored to be acquired by Y! BORING!!!
I'm not in a position to call a stop to The Digestion Phase. But I do want to emphasize that for Web technologists, entrepreneurs, bloggers - now is the time to focus on the next stage of Web innovation. Some of you will be busy consolidating your businesses, looking for M&A opportunities, integrating, reflecting. But don't forget that right under your nose is a lot of opportunity in the tech segments mentioned in this post.