What is this “second Web” I keep hearing about? Is it marketing hype, or a new technology?
It’s a mixture of the two. Perhaps inspired (or provoked) by Superscape’s announcement of its Virtual World Wide Web last November, Silicon Graphics (SGI) is now announcing it is working toward a “second Web.” SGI has been making these types of vague statements attached to product announcements, the restructuring of its Web divisions, and as general trade show promotional glaze, but now it seems SGI is actually making corporate deals to bring its technology to a wider audience.
Early in May, SGI announced it was forming a new multiplatform Internet software business unit, Cosmo Software. This unit comprises the Cosmo product line and the newly acquired ParaGraph International company and products. The joint press release described the union: “SiliconGraphics and ParaGraph were brought together by a shared vision and commitmentto enable a more engaging, interactive and three-dimensional Second Web.”
This fits with SGI’s recent announcement that it will focus key resources on growth markets: the desktop marketplace and the professional Web site designer. SGI had previously announced it was to merge its Cosmo Player with Netscape Communications’ Live3D VRML browser. The addition of ParaGraph to the mix means the new browser should have the multiuser capabilities ParaGraph has been working on.
ParaGraph has many capabilities and products useful to SGI. It is the industry leader in several key Web market segments, Internet Space Builder and VHSB are consumer-level VRML tools, and the company makes 3D font and animation tools and robust client/server software for multiuser online services. ParaGraph also has contracts to supply technologies, content and services for several important commercial Web projects. These include Disney Online, The Microsoft Network, and PeopleWorld, one of the largest and fasting growing online services in Japan.
So how is any of this a “second Web”? Depending on how cynical you feel, it’s either the coming of new browser and authoring tool technology to enable easier, faster and more aesthetic 3D Web sites, or the sides shaping up for a big battle with Microsoft. On its side of the fence, Microsoft has now acquired Dimension X lock, stock and Java programmers, and a license to use Intervista’s WorldView VRML browser as part of Internet Explorer. Microsoft doesn’t have multiuser technology yet, so my money says Microsoft will acquire a company that does. What are the choices? There’s Oz, BlackSun or possibly OnLive, all with MUtech. OnLive has abandoned work on 3D to concentrate on audio; BlackSun has connections with Netscape, which may make BlackSun unattractive to Microsoft; Oz has good technology, great content provision skills and is affiliated with SoftImage, a Microsoft company, so if logic ruled, Oz would be the choice. Watch this space.
I think any “second Web” is going to have to wait for new hardware to expand bandwidth. The government-backed Next Generation Internet project, radio Internet links and cable modems are all part of the delivery infrastructure needed before there are any radical changes for the regular Internet user.