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Web 3.0: the shopping centre web

InternetIf Web 2.0 was the two-way, user generated, cool internet, Web 3.0 will be the era of post-search rationalisation. The shopping centre web. The big brands are taking over.

It may not be cool, but it's the way it's going. And it's the web we made ourselves.

Move to a new town, as I recently did, and the internet is a lifeline. The Yellow Pages makes excellent packing material, but it's no match for a good web-search when it comes to sourcing local tradespeople, shops and services. But as search engines and web users mature, the realistic options narrow.

Think about it: Google can give you 100 pages of results on a particular query, but how often do you look beyond the first couple of answers?

Take Domino's Pizza. The US bread-food merchant this week celebrates 10 years of flogging calorific loveliness over the web. It's the undisputed grandaddy of ubiquitous fast food delivery, with 583 stores within these shores alone. It works because it's simple - you can order from just about anywhere in the UK, and get a product of known quality delivered in roughly the same time. It may not be the best pizza in the land, and it's certainly not the cheapest. But it's the easy option, and you know exactly what you're going to get.

Domino's has the marketing clout to ensure it's the first answer you see, via paid-for search ads and organic results. And, well, sheer size. And it has the infrastructure to add in all manner of payment and ordering technology to make it even easier to be lazy.

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So when I, ravenous after a day shifting furniture in an as-yet strange town, fancied a rabidly unhealthy snack, you know where I shopped. (Clue: it wasn't a specialist local retailer that required a modicum of web research or - heaven forfend - a phonecall.)

The nature of search technology and even social media means that the winners on the internet get bigger by the day. Talk to any successful website owner, and they can tell you all the clever things they did to make it. Ask them to repeat the trick today, and they'll struggle. Being good isn't now enough on its own to get you internet success.

The cost of entry to the market (a website) is miniscule, but to get genuine traffic (top answers on Google, Bing) you need to be the very first, the very best or the very biggest (with the deepest pockets). Even using social media to attract attention is much harder if you're wee. You need scale. As time goes by this means that the big brands that can afford to pay for marketing will only get bigger.

The virtual land grab is almost over. But it's not all bad. The frontier days of the web may be largely behind us. What remains is a more stable and secure environment in which to shop and commune. It just looks a bit like the high-street it replaced.

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