Of the multiple generations of the Web, it is the second one, commonly called “2.0”, that we have heard the most about. It is the one that marked the advent of the Web as a dynamic, participative and global platform on which the user became an actor. More recently, the labels “3.0”, “4.0” and sometimes even “5.0” have appeared to mark the most recent transformations of this evolving Web; transformations that are not only technological but also sociological. Although experts do not all agree on the distinction between these different phases of the Web, here are the most common versions, which, without being exhaustive, should help you better understand the evolution of this tool that is now an integral part of our lives.

Web 1.0: the static

  • Period: 1990s
  • Objective: distribute information

Also known as “classic,” “traditional,” or “documentary,” this first-generation Web is made of static pages presenting a limited content of hypertext or hypermedia, rarely updated and in “read-only” mode. Most often monodirectional, the Web sites of this era are kinds of catalogues or brochures of companies or organizations, sometimes transactional, intended for private individuals. They make it possible to publish information that can be consulted at any time by all users and to establish an online presence. Email and discussion forums are the two modes of communication associated with this Web.

Web 2.0: the participative

  • Period: 2000s
  • Objective: connect users and share content

It is the lack of interaction possibilities between users that led to the development of Web 2.0. This marks the era of certain democratization of the web, in the sense that the user also becomes an actor and designer. In addition to offering more possibilities than the previous version, while being simpler to use, this Web allows users to get information and share content, modify some of it, and create it. The platforms are interactive, the applications participative, the sites dynamic, and the contents unlimited. This Web, accessible to both professional and amateur users, puts them in contact wherever they are in the world and becomes a space for socialization, as they gathered in communities, leading to social networks.

The advent of 2.0 marks the appearance of blogs and microblogs, encyclopedias and collaborative portals, content syndication and citizen journalism. It also marks the explosion of online commerce as well as the emergence of centralized applications — the Web giants that have become Google (Alphabet), Apple, Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft, now commonly referred to by the acronym GAFAM – which collect data on their numerous users that are then monetized through targeted advertising.

Web 3.0: the semantic

  • Period: 2010s
  • Objective: give meaning to data, connect knowledge and guide users according to their context

The Web has given the greatest number of people direct access to a staggering amount of information while allowing the collection of a wealth of information on users. It has thus become a huge data bank, data that has been called Big Data because of its colossal volume. In this world of “infobesity,” it has become imperative — and possible, thanks to artificial intelligence (AI) — to integrate into the Web technologies that facilitate the sharing and reuse of content both between users (humans), between “machines” (programs or software agents) and between users and machines.

The use of metadata (data about data) has become essential to describe and classify Big Data, hence the use of the term “semantics” (which concerns meaning) to describe this Web 3.0. This semantics allows us to organize the resources of the web so that the machine can better respond to user requests. Let’s think, for example, about the use of keywords to search for and promote content, individual filters for online shopping, or visual search, which makes it possible to obtain information on a subject from an image. In short, we can say that the Web 3.0 generation aims to give meaning to data, connect knowledge, and offer a more personalized experience to the user, who is also more mobile than ever.

Web 4.0: the “intelligent” Web

  • Period: beginning with 2020
  • Objective: connect the real and the virtual, facilitate interactions between users and objects, foster collective intelligence and innovation

Web 4.0 is part of a context where artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, the Internet of Things and augmented and virtual reality, in particular, are becoming increasingly sophisticated and integrated into our daily lives. This is just the beginning of a world in which the digital and the physical merge. And this fourth-generation Web, known as “intelligent,” will tend to be more direct, invisible, omnipresent and ubiquitous, since it will be in symbiosis with the connected objects in the user’s environment. These objects and this Web will understand natural language (our language) better and better and will be able to analyze user behaviour in order to respond to their needs, sometimes even without their intervention and without their needing to go through a digital screen. This Web is, therefore, a key element in what is called the virtualization of the world or “phygital” revolution (for “fusion of the physical and the digital”) in which human beings and computers will interact with increasing fluidity.

Some people are already talking about the idea of Web 5.0, which is supposed to be symbiotic, telepathic, sensory and emotional. A Web that we can somehow conceive as the outcome of 4.0, or even the outcome of the Web itself since it is in total symbiosis with the user… For now, this fifth version remains in the realm of science fiction.

Catherine Meilleur

Catherine Meilleur

Creative Content Writer @KnowledgeOne. Questioner of questions. Hyperflexible stubborn. Contemplative yogi.

Catherine Meilleur has over 15 years of experience in research and writing. Having worked as a journalist and educational designer, she is interested in everything related to learning: from educational psychology to neuroscience, and the latest innovations that can serve learners, such as virtual and augmented reality. She is also passionate about issues related to the future of education at a time when a real revolution is taking place, propelled by digital technology and artificial intelligence.