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Internet Future: Article

Is The Wii A Glimpse At What Web 3.0 Might Be Like?

I think devices like the Wii represent the next step in social software

The current rage is all about community building and social software, especially using the Internet (I refuse to call it the web) as the backbone for such community building. I think devices like the Wii represent the next step in social software. If you've been reading this blog for a while, then you probably know that one of my interests is Web 2.0 and social software. I find the concept fascinating and I've been absorbing everything related to Web 2.0 like a sponge. You may also know that lately I've been dissapointed with the so-called Web 2.0 offerings that have been appearing lately. Its gotten so bad that the Web 2.0 look and feel has become a satired cliche, and you can even generate "Web 2.0" company and product logos on the web using a simple formula. When the innovation represented by the initial drive into Web 2.0 can be canned into a photo re-touching algorithm, you know the innovation is declining.

I've been pretty critical of "me too" offerings in the past, and still am. I don't think there's any excuse for cranking out "me too" products. If someone else has a product on the market, and you release a product with an identical feature list, there had better be a mighty compelling reason for users to switch from product A to your product. If your product doesn't do it better, bigger, faster, or in a new innovative way than your competitors - your product is doomed to fail before you release it so why bother? "Me too" offerings are like litter. Roadside debris. Someone might look out a window and point, saying, "hey look at the crap on the side of the road", but no one is going to pull over and use anything they find on the road (if they do, they have issues unreleated to Web 2.0).

When I bought my Wii, the last thing on my mind was social software, social networking, or community building. I planned on playing Zelda until my eyes bled, and buying a copy of the original Mario Brothers for the NES and playing that until my fingers bled. Lots of gaming and bleeding going on. I had some spare time to read on the way home from the city yesterday, so I read all the Wii manuals, including the "channels guide".

To my surprise, I discovered that the Wii is quite the social little device. Nintendo has extended their socialization capabilities that people have come to expect with their mobile devices and put them into the Wii. Using the Bulletin Board feature, you can put up sticky notes, look at your calendar that includes game play and event history (it told me I played Zelda for 12 minutes last night [Heroes was on.. priorities are what they are]), and you can send messages to your buddies. The interesting part is that buddies can be other Wiis, or they can be a PC or a Cell Phone that is capable of e-mail. That's right, I can message people from my Wii, and they can message me back. I understand that cross-platform mail gateways are nothing new, but, putting that capability into a super-tiny little compact gaming console is a fantastic idea.

I can share photos with other people via my Wii. When I put photos up on my bulletin board, apparently (I haven't tested this yet), other people with their Wiis can connect to me, or my bulletin board, and see the photos I'm sharing. I can also send photos attached to Wii messages. In addition, you can use the Wiimote to tweak and retouch photos imported from SD cards such as putting mustaches on suitable victims.

Finally, you get to create a Mii. A Mii is a cute little 3-d avatar with all the features that you decide upon. You choose their head shape, their facial features, their hair color, their favorite color (reflected in their choice of clothing), and their name. These Miis can then meander around the local plaza, or they can go to some place (forget the name) where there are shared Miis - travelling Miis created by friends of yours on their Wiis can travel to your Wii and mingle around on your machine. While its just a cute feature, the underlying technology for creating something locally and propogating it out spirally via a friends network is quite powerful.

Nintendo has built into the system a core updater - last night my Wii downloaded 2 system updates and installed them, and a few things about my Wii changed slightly. This means that not only can Nintendo fix bugs if necessary, but they can expand and create new channels. They could add additional features such as trading purchased games (I'll trade you my copy of ExciteBike for your copy of Altered Beast!). The fact that you have your own personal "space" inside your Wii that can be visited by friends (and only friends) feels very much like "MySpace" on a console, only without the hideous GUI and feeling that everything is nothing more than digital graffiti.

I think that where Web 2.0 is all about social networking and user-contributed content, Web 3.0 could easily be referred to as social networking and user-contributed content taken to the next level, even to include where this social networking can take place via non-traditional devices. Cell phones will become more networked, and non-traditional social networking devices like gaming consoles will become all-purpose "entertainment consoles" that do things like deliver weather, news, messages, friends list, exchanged goods with friends, and anything else people can think of.

Hats off to Nintendo for thinking to include this stuff in their console. While I think there's tremendous room for improvement, I'm pleased with the fact that Nintendo took the time to put this in there when other console manufacturers might have thought features like this weren't worth it. I can't wait to see, in a few years, what kinds of things people will be doing with "appliances" in their home that also happen to use the Internet as a back-end. 

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Kevin Hoffman, editor-in-chief of SYS-CON's iPhone Developer's Journal, has been programming since he was 10 and has written everything from DOS shareware to n-tier, enterprise web applications in VB, C++, Delphi, and C. Hoffman is coauthor of Professional .NET Framework (Wrox Press) and co-author with Robert Foster of Microsoft SharePoint 2007 Development Unleashed. He authors The .NET Addict's Blog at .NET Developer's Journal.

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.NET News Desk 11/21/06 10:08:23 AM EST

The current rage is all about community building and social software, especially using the Internet (I refuse to call it the web) as the backbone for such community building. I think devices like the Wii represent the next step in social software. If you've been reading this blog for a while, then you probably know that one of my interests is Web 2.0 and social software.