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Whose Era Is It Anyway?

There's a smoldering fight between Robert Scoble, Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg over whether to talk about Web 3.0, as the AllthingsDigital crowd would have it, or "2010 Web," as Scoble suggests. All of them have it wrong. Web 3.0 sounds even more contrived than Web 2.0 ever did; Scoble, on the other hand, argues that "2010 Web" communicates a sense of urgency that Web 3.0 doesn't. But the only urgency communicated is the urgency that vendors feel to sell more product.

In fact, eras aren't defined by version numbers or by naming conventions determined by pundits, but by the companies and technologies that determine what becomes of us. Until last week, we were living in the Microsoft Era; everything that's been accomplished online has been done either thanks to or in reaction to Microsoft.

Then last week, abruptly, we entered the Google Era, which was inaugurated by Wave, perhaps the collaboration platform of the future. Wave is Google's illustration of what is possible thanks to HTML 5, the standard underlying Chrome, which allows Web-sent applications to behave as perfectly as applications installed on the desktop.

The Google Era has only just begun, and it's not about Google's dominance in search or maps or Gmail. Technology eras are defined by disruptive changes and the companies that make those changes possible, whether they create the most successful products or not.

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of small companies waiting to ride in the wake of Wave. Sridhar Vembu, CEO of cloud-based productivity vendor Zoho, told me that Wave is "pretty exciting" because it allows Web-based products like those developed by his company to work easily with other products on the Web. "This is a good thing for the industry, and it's a good thing for customers," he said.

Vembu added that "Google is getting the core technology right, but the user experience is where we can differentiate ourselves. That's our real strategy."

In fact, Google may have sowed the seeds of its own destruction by making it possible for companies like Zoho to take market share away from it. But by championing standards-based browsing, Google is unleashing a generation of developers on mobile and wired devices of all sizes, and creating applications for all the Webs.

Microsoft used the Internet to create a profitable software stack and, in the process, educated a generation of developers in benefits of open source, standards-based code. Software-as-a-service was invented as an alternative to the software licensing schemes that Microsoft perfected; online collaboration tools are a counterpoint to SharePoint; Gmail is an alternative to Hotmail.

Microsoft was a lot webbier than what came before -- the era of Yahoo and AOL, which gave us the training wheels of the Internet. It took killing Netscape to do it, but Microsoft gave us the ubiquity of Internet Explorer and the freedom to browse. IE then led to Firefox and Chrome, which is growing share more rapidly than any browser in history and leading us into the Google Era.

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