Yes, I’ve seen the future of the Internet and it is summarized by the most prosaic of arithmetical truths: Web 1.0 + Web 2.0 = Web 3.0. The future of the Internet is the combination of the traditional media expertise of Web 1.0 media with the user-generated democracy of the Web 2.0 revolution. That represents the best of all worlds and is manifested by the deal announced on Wednesday in Frankfurt between Bertelsmann and Wikipedia.
Bertelsmann is, of course, the quintessential authoritative media company — the German owned international empire of publishing houses (Random House), record labels (BMG), magazine publishers (Gruner & Jahr) and broadcasting companies (RTL Group). The user-generated information website Wikipedia, in contrast — with its absence of central authorities, controls or formal editors — is the anti Bertelsmann media company.
So what happens when you combine the best of Bertelsmann and Wikipedia?
You get Bertelsmann’s plan to publish the German version of Wikipedia’s content in a one-volume physical book. Now, of course, the current information on the German language Wikipedia site would fill a multi-volume set of encyclopedias. So what the deal involves is editors at the Bertelsmann subsidary Wissen Media acting as the expert curators of Wikipedia’s user-generated content. Professional editors, then, will pick 50,000 commonly researched keywords from the 740,000 entries on Wikipedia and then standardize these entries as short definitions in what will be called a Lexical Yearbook which will sell for 20 euros.
Rather than the Lexical, maybe they should call it the Lyrical Yearbook. It certainly represents a lyrical marriage of the best of Web 1.0 and Web 2.0. What I particularly like about the deal is that 1 euro from every Yearbook sale will be donated to Wikimedia Deutschland. I just hope that the Germans figure out a way to financially reward Wikipedia editors for their labor.
This Lexical Yearbook — and not unrealisable abstractions like the Semantic Web — is the real commercial future of the Internet. Web 1.0 + Web 2.0 = Web 3.0. The future, then, is a mash-up of Bertelsmann and Wikipedia. Everybody wins. Trust the practical Germans to transform clever American innovation into viable commercial product. Now can we expect a similar deal between The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and the blogosphere to produce a a paper newsblog?