OpenText CEO outlines vision of web's future

Considering the role that Canadian firm OpenText has had in the development of the web since its conception – as a project based at the University of Waterloo – through to devising searchable internet alongside Yahoo and onwards, it is perhaps no surprise that the firm’s CEO, Tom Jenkins, is not shy of an opinion or two about the future of web development.

At a meeting at the Savoy in London, Jenkins was on hand to offer his vision of how the web will grow and change over the coming years, providing insight into the mesmerising possibilities concerning web development, immediately and on the none too distant horizon.

And Jenkins is certainly not afraid of the odd controversial comment, such as employing staunchly free market views on net neutrality. “Intervene with the economics of it at your peril,” he warns, adding that as a capitalist, messing around with a free market is a bad approach for the number of countries struggling to get to grips with how to deal with neutrality. Nor is he shy of the hyperbolic.

But Jenkins is nothing if not an engaging speaker and certainly raises some interesting points about problems that will be faced as the internet moves from 2.0 to 3.0 and beyond.

One such hurdle is the exponential increase in content that is being added to the web.

Jenkins points to the problem faced when he was involved at the beginning of the developmental period of the web, in the early nineties, when around 100,000 users were involved in an industry that was worried about the imminent doubling of a single gigabyte of content to two.

This is compared with what Jenkins believes will eventually turn into a web that is doubling in its content size, not just every year but every month, as over 400 formats are utilised to bring rich media increasingly into the forefront of a web 3.0, including predictions that this will occur every day by the end of the decade.

It is with this overwhelming increase in information that companies will be forced to adapt to how they deal with an overload of data

One of the inherent problems lies in how to make such a mass of information easily accessible to a wide a spectrum of users on differing smartphones, tablets and OSes that Jenkins believes will continue to play a vital role in the future of information sharing.

He points to an example by his own firm which was tasked with setting up a secure social network for a G20 conference, which his team soon found out actually involves significantly more than 20 countries, by creating an intuitive interface based on a familiar social network style – and so forgoing the need to train non-technically minded diplomats.

Corporate needs aside, as the web moves to its new incarnation there are a number of interesting ways in which accessing the swathes of information available on public networks, as well as private, are likely to change as the semantic web is implemented.

According to Jenkins, “making content relevant on an individual basis” is going to become a vital way in which information is gathered in the future, with more intelligent search methods being coupled with the increase in mobility and ubiquity of high speed bandwidth.

This will, for example, manifest itself in “everyone having some sort of GPS on their person at all times”, with locational data being combined with friends’ opinions to help you find, for instance, a shoe shop that is best suited to that individual, with brands even tailoring websites to the specific user with web 3.0 technology.

One thorny conundrum of the unstoppable increase of information on the internet lies in the effect on journalism as an industry, with citizen journalism evidently becoming increasingly prevalent.

Jenkins believes the doubling of content at increasingly smaller intervals will mean that there will be an even greater need for informed editorial filter of swathes of information, perhaps going some way at least to placate the journos attending the meeting that jobs might be safe for another while yet.

One spanner in the works of web 3.0 in a general sense has, according to Jenkins, been the appearance of the “gotcha moment” of Wikileaks‘ arrival, which has “put the momentum of 3.0 off course”, having opened up so much information from within organisations causing massive fears over security of, for example, social networking sites which are estimated to be blocked in 50 percent of companies.

Nevertheless, this could be a mere blip in the otherwise unassailable move towards the incorporation of highly technical web services into our day-to-day lives.

For example, Jenkins speaks with great enthusiasm at the way younger generations are picking up new technologies, bandying terms such as neuroplasticity and a “generational divide”. What he is highlighting is the way kids’ brains work is proven to be different due to, for example, no longer memorising phone numbers – while aggregating information much more efficiently than previous generations.

It certainly appears that such mental flexibility will be needed as we move to the immersive technology of a web 4.0 in the distant future.

This is what Jenkins describes as the virtual world of the “avatar web”, blending optimism for what is a rather exciting prospect with fears that the “intoxicating” virtual reality of the gaming world will be applied to the internet, and could, rather sinisterly, “start to see people lose touch with reality”.

But any worries that the future of the internet that conjure images of Jeff Noon’s dystopian ‘Vurt’, are at least a decade off, says Jenkins, who states that  it is “a problem we’re going to have to deal with when we get there.”