If you think about it – not a lot has changed since the web was born 25 years ago – we still use browsers – even though some have come and gone and have been reborn again – even thought we’ve seen a huge uptick towards mobile, even there we use mobile browsers to view the internet. In fact, I’m typing this blog post in a browser – of course no one at the time would ever imagine how the browser and the web would fully disrupt software as we know it.
If you look a Mosaic today, what you see is a very, very crude versions or what I’m using to write this blog post – while the power of the browser itself has changed – and many layers of technology have appeared to replicate the software on my desktop experience in the browser, I’m still loading a web page. If I were to look at my source right now, I’d still see HTML and hyperlinks, just as Tim-Berners Lee imagined it.
Of course, in the early days, the power of hypertext was in the ability to let you jump to the link when you needed additional exposition on that specific word – thus the term web “surfing”, you’d bounce from page to page, sometimes digging into the pages, other times, finding another path to somewhere else, with no idea how to get back. Until of course, you pressed the “back” button.
Even though we still call it “surfing”, we no longer surf in the traditional sense, well, most people I know don’t. They take a less active role, preferring instead to allow curated content to come at them in feeds, whether they be properly curated or not, The web of today is more of a lean back experience than ever. And since most people experience the web via Facebook, Google, Amazon and the like, and rarely venture far off those beaten tracks, there is even less – and likely to be less tomorrow. We went from a free roaming experience to one on rails (borrowing from the video game world) – even though we CAN go anywhere, we choose not to, preferring the popular neighborhoods than going off the beaten track.
Where will the web be in 25 years? Unrecognizable, I should think. First of all, we are already seeing a burst of different devices, mostly wearables, which will give us new form factors to consider. The web itself will shatter into a million niches – requiring the ability to display everything from single words, to weighty tomes, in any format, on any device, in a way it can digested. It’s like responsive design on steroids – and it will have to look awesome on all of them – since design will continue to be super important.
Secondly, a lot of the “stuff” that we have to do – things that seem really complicated and formidable to accomplish, will simply disappear. Oh, they will still be there, but they will subside into a pure platform play. For example, something like eCommerce, selling stuff, paying people, that won’t be a thing onto itself, its will become integrated into the fabric of the web. There won’t be payment apps, just payment APIs, hidden from the end user. And not just payment APIs, many services which require a full app and complicated instrumentation will disappear.
So many things will become effortless and seamless. You won’t need to do many things any more – agents will do things for you on your behalf – based on things that you’ve already done, things that it thinks you will be doing, and even things that it think you might want to do. Everyone will be a rock star, as technology provides everyone with an amazing virtual entourage, anyone can enjoy a rock star experience.
After that – the web will be everywhere. Once the web is everywhere – once every dumb device is smart and connected, we will have so much big data that we are able to, we can solve every problem.
We do have the web to thank for that. If it wasn’t for Tim, then the only people using the internet would be nerds and geeks like me. And there are only so many of us.
One of the things I like to joke about is that my Dad used to say “Why are you doing computers? Computers are a fad! You should get into a business which is necessary! Like being a doctor, lawyer, real estate agents. Everyone gets sick, everyone needs a house! Even barbers are necessary. But computers?” I think about what he said and I realize that the web is not only responsible for my career over the last 20 years, but also the careers of millions more. If you can possibly imagine life without the web, and the huge driver of commerce and economic growth that it has become, then I don’t want to live in that world. I could, but I wouldn’t want to.
So cheers to Tim Berners-Lee and the web. I have not idea where I’d be if it wasn’t for his awesome invention. Probably still crawling under desks and replacing hard drives, I suppose.