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Last Updated: Friday, 8 October, 2004, 09:39 GMT 10:39 UK
Visionaries outline web's future
US Library of Congress, BBC
This entire building could fit on one shelf
Universal access to all human knowledge could be had for around $260m, a conference about the web's future has been told.

The idea of access for all was put forward by visionary Brewster Kahle, who suggested starting by digitally scanning all 26 million books in the US Library of Congress.

His idea was just one of many presented at the Web 2.0 conference in San Francisco that aims to give a glimpse of what the net will become.

Experts at the event said the next generation of the web will come out of the creative and programming communities starting to tinker with the vast pool of data the net has become.

Small start

Despite the hype surrounding the dotcom era, many believe that the vast potential of the net to change society and business remains largely untapped.

The last few years have been more about making a working infrastructure and making it useable with browsers, search engines, blogs and a variety of other programming tools.

The future will build on this basic infrastructure in ways that "grow in the telling", said Tim O'Reilly, co-organiser of the Web 2.0 conference.

Jeff Bezos, Amazon boss, AP
Bezos: Software tools will mine the Amazon site
Web 2.0 will also build on the groups that are springing up around well-known net companies such as Google, Amazon, eBay and many others.

Speaking about what this future will be like, Jeff Bezos, boss of e-commerce firm Amazon, said it will be about making the web useable for computers rather than people.

This will revolve around tools and programs that re-work the information collected by firms like Amazon that will help create new services and businesses.

One such is MusicPlasma which mines Amazon data to produce a visual search engine to let people find other music that resembles the stuff they already listen to.

Another is the Scoutpal service that lets people scan book bar codes to find out what price of the title on Amazon.

Amazon already has 65,000 developers who are working on ways to plunder information on its site for their own ends. The payback for Amazon is the selling of more stuff through its site.

Big ideas

Another glimpse of how the web is changing was given with the unveiling of new search engine Snap by net veteran Bill Gross.

Snap lets people find web pages related to a keyword query but also produces lots of extra information.

Screengrab of Snap search site
New firms debuted at Web 2.0
For instance, a search for digital cameras produces a table detailing popular models that others have looked for.

Mr Gross said Snap was a precursor of what the net will become as it tries to encourage interaction and builds on the data trails that earlier visitors leave behind.

A well as talking about what the web will become, the conference also gave a platform to people with big ideas for how the potential of the net can be harnessed.

Brewster Kahle's idea is to scan as many books as possible and put them online so everyone has access to that huge amount of knowledge.

In his speech, Mr Kahle pointed out that most books are out of print most of the time and only a tiny proportion are available on bookshop shelves.

Using a robotic scanner, Mr Kahle said the job of scanning the 26 million volumes in the US Library of Congress, the world's biggest library, would cost only $260m (146m).

He estimated that the scanned images would take up about a terabyte of space and cost about $60,000 (33,000) to store. Instead of needing a huge building to hold them, the entire library could fit on a single shelf.

The Web 2.0 conference was held in San Francisco from 5-7 October.

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