From web 2.0 to 4.0

The journey from Web 1.0 toward 4.0

In the 1990’s, Web 1.0 entered the realm of public interest.

Berners-lee page
Screenshot of original web 1.0 webpage (Berners-Lee, 1993)

It provided webpages filled with information to users who would read, understand and use. In 1996 this was enhanced by Google who gave users a forum to directly ask for webpages with specific information.

Fast-forward to 2005 and Web 2.0 is revolutionising business operations by transforming the web into a platform.  Companies became, and are still becoming more customer-centric by allowing customers and users to contribute, create and share content.  Because of this shift to e-commerce, marketers created a new digital realm that offered easily accessible, trackable and tangible marketing opportunities based around enhancing the user participation to empower consumers in internet marketing (Labrecque, et al., 2013).

In 2006 John Markoff floated the concept of web 3.0, also commonly known as the ‘Semantic web’ (Berners-Lee et al., 2001). This meant cross-platform integration, automation and data collection. It is still referred to as the Semantic Web which was defined by Berners-Lee et al (2001) as ‘an extension of the current web in which information is given well-defined meaning, better enabling computers and people to work in cooperation’.

Over the course of web 1.0 to web 3.0, users have become the generators and will continue to control the power over consumable content and information. All channels and site have reevaluated their purpose and are now angled towards creating positive user experiences to build relationships and loyalty globally.

From web 2.0 to 4.0 

Marketing in the Web 2.0 Era

Web 2.0 applications grew in popularity because of the advantages they offer, transparency, referrals, contact with users as well at their effect on customer power (Urban, 2004).  Businesses who recognised the effects of Web 2.0 on consumer’s decision making process as well the the motives behind the interest developed strategies to create a seamless buying experience across channels.  These two concepts have been considered the staples of web 2.0 marketing strategies and the effective application of web 2.0’s user-centric platform.

  • User Generated Content

User Generated Content (UGC) has become a key element for brand awareness as well as a direct way to collect consumer insights. This process of marketing has a multiplying effect as content can be shared to reach unknown consumers. Accessing untapped communities has been difficult in the past as brands need to gain the trust of the users, but in the world of UGC this process can be easily and often unintentional as influential users share their own opinions.

Example: Birkenstocks. They were never cool, not until late 2012 when replicas appeared in Giambattista Valli and Celine’s shows. The fashion bloggers of the world united and although many couldn’t afford the $850 needed for Celine’s fluffy slip-ons, they saw an alternative in Birkenstock. Similar style, high quality and never considered a fashion staple before. A Bloggers dream, to make something cool that has always been overlooked.

As the digital influencers wore more of the sandals, the phenomenon grew as their follows copied the look. Consumers knew the brand, but it was delivered to a new audience through a different and trust-worthy source.  

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UGC for Birkenstock using #birkenstock reaching 11.7k other users.  Source: @the_salty_blonde
  •  Consumer Behaviour

Shifting to user-driven platforms means the behaviour of consumers has the ability to change and demand more information from businesses. Nowadays users access recommendations, endorsements and reviews from trusted sources as part of their decision-making process. As McIntyre (2013) states, consumers distrust marketers and prefer to seek advice from their communities.

Despite this, user empowerment can be leveraged for marketing purposes. There are three main influences on a consumer’s empowerment experience to be considered to take advantage of the new behaviour.

  1. The ability to dictate the features of a choice
  2. Progress cues during the purchasing process and,
  3. Information on other consumers

(Wathieu et al., 2002)

Towards Web 4.0 and the marketing future

Although we’re barely comfortable with Web 3.0, many are looking for ways to begin incorporating Web 4.0 into their marketing strategy. The concept is the harmonisation between humans and machines.

Building on the marketing concepts implemented in Web 2.0, the 4.0 version will be infinitely more complex as channels and information will be shared seamlessly and act as a problem-solver. Total integration will be essential as the platform will become a secondary brain for finding and understanding mass amounts of information.

This process is slowly seeping into social media and other digital channels as the semantic web grows to understand each individual by providing content that has either been viewed by an influencer or is similar to something viewed in the past. Web 4.0 will see this become even more detailed and dynamic depending on user behaviour.


Berners-Lee, T., Hendler, J. and Lassila, O., 2001. The semantic web, Scientific American284(5), pp.28-37.

Choudhury, N., 2014. World wide web and its journey from web 1.0 to web 4.0. Int. J. Comput. Sc. Inf. Tech5(6), pp.8096-8100.

Constantinides, E. and Fountain, S.J., 2008. Web 2.0: Conceptual foundations and marketing issues. Journal of direct, data and digital marketing practice9(3), pp.231-244.

Labrecque, I. L., Esche, J. vor dem, Mathwick, C., Novak, P. T. & Hofacker, F. C., 2013. Consumer Power: Evolution in the Digital Age. Journal of Interactive Marketing, 27, pp.257-269.

McIntyre, N., 2013. How Has Technology Changed the Role of Marketing in the Past Ten Years, and how do you see it Changing in the Next Five. [online] Available at: [Accessed 8 February 2014]

Khoo, D., 2014. How has the internet changed consumers over the past 10 years and how can marketers best adapt?, Brandbase [online] Available at:, accessed 20 August 2016.

Urban, Glen L. 2004, “The emerging era of customer advocacy.” MIT Sloan Management Review 45.2 (2004): 77.

Wathieu, L., Brenner L., Carmon, Z. et al., 2002. Consumer Control and Empowerment: A Primer. Marketing Letters 13, 3, pp.297–305.