By Raena Jackson Armitage

Can You Imagine the Web in 20 Years?

By Raena Jackson Armitage

The late Eighties! Mike and the Mechanics were at the top of the charts, George Bush, Senior had just become President of the US, and a CERN contractor by the name of Tim Berners-Lee was busy writing a little paper entitled Information Management: A Proposal. In it he described a way to simplify the sharing of information among people in different locations. He gave it to his manager, Mike Sendall, who thought it was "vague, but exciting."

Over the following year, Tim and his colleague, Robert Cailliau, refined the idea and updated the proposal. It described a concept called a “WorldWideWeb” — a simple interface for browsing large quantities of information, using hypertext to link documents. Within just a few years it had grown well beyond CERN and the academic realm, and public use of the Internet exploded thanks to this new, more intuitive interface.

Why the history lesson? Because the date on Tim Berners-Lee’s first paper, arguably the birth of the Web, was March 13th, 1989. That’s twenty years ago last Friday — and to me, that’s a reason to celebrate!

It’s amazing to think about how much the Web’s developed since then. We’ve seen:

It’s hard to imagine now what life would be like without the Web. Even more obscure to me is this: what would we all be doing if there were no Web, and thus no Web developers, managers, sysadmins, writers, or designers? Twenty years ago I was eight years old and daydreamed about inventing new breakfast cereals; the most excited I’d ever been about a computer was thanks to a game called Granny’s Garden. None of my friends and family — including me — would have predicted that my career would be what it is right now.

What’s next for the Web? In twenty years’ time I’ll be pushing fifty and I’m without a clue as to what could be happening by then. In the shorter term, though, I think we’ll see lots of fun stuff develop. Here are three growing trends that I’m excited to watch over the next few years.

Even more web-based applications: Web-based apps have been around for awhile, so this is a no-brainer, but I think it’ll go gangbusters once popular apps reach the mainstream. Thinking about great web apps like 280 Slides, the Aviary graphics apps, Google Apps, and Photoshop Express, I think it’s fair to say that we’re well on the way to a world where everyone — not just us geeks — find it easy to manipulate and store files online. As these applications become simpler and more enjoyable to use, the more likely Joe Sixpack is to adopt it. Best of all, the ability to create brilliant, useful, and unique apps is increasingly available to web developers like you and me.

Security will become an even bigger deal: It seems as though every week there’s yet another story about a security problem with an online service — whether it’s a malicious Facebook app, private documents exposed to the world, or a compromised online banking service. As we move towards conducting more and more of our personal business online, and as more of us carry around a little web device in our pockets, this issue will have to come to the forefront of everyone’s minds — beyond the security experts, to everyday people too. I think the strongest evidence of change will be a lot more education, and a massive shift in people’s attitudes about security. From a techie perspective, however, the time is right (and the time is right now!) for useful, friendly tools that make it much easier for everyday consumers and businesses to secure their identities and data.

The mainstream media refuses to die: It seems cool lately to proclaim long and loud (and perhaps with a dash of smugness) that the end of the world is nigh for the mainstream media. But this is far from the truth — while the mainstream media as a whole might stumble from time to time with the new way, leaders in the field are now showing that they’re ready to embrace new media and all that it offers. Here’s one recent bit of evidence: UK newspaper, The Guardian, just released an API that exposes their news content, free to mash up and reuse. Developers are already using this data to create geographic visualizations of the news. It’s a great example of mainstream media reaching out to the new media, and I think this trend will keep on growing.

Like I said, it’s impossible for me to predict what will happen in twenty years, but I’m sure of this — in 2029, I hope to be as excited about the Web as I am now. How about you — are you coming along for the ride? What do you think the Web will look like in the next twenty years?

  • Good post.

  • promanex

    Great post, I think it is pretty much impossible for anyone to say what will come in the next 20 years. Tech moves so fast and enables us to do so much so quickly that i don’t think even our imaginations can keep up.

  • Becs

    Granny’s garden got me into computers too. A few years ago I went back and visited my old school after university and thanked my teacher for inspiring me with IT. I now work in online comms!

  • Michael

    I can make Flash spike 70% CPU usage with little effort, so I imagine in 20 years I’ll just be getting to the point where the stuff I am trying to do today will actually be feasible. ;)


    Great post mate, thanks for reminding us of this milestone.

    Rock on Tim Berners-Lee. You did a good thing.

    May we all have those five words written on our tombstones.

  • Jon

    In 20 years time, you may not be running apps on your PC. You may not even have an OS on it. Hardware agnostic apps will run on web servers and your PC will just be a window onto a whole world of applications, with download speeds of 100Mb and upload speeds of about 8 – 24. Whether office apps or games, online communities or tv, homes will have an always on, 100Mb per second connection to everything.

    However much you dislike Google, it is driving us towards a full online existence and, whilst the technology is pretty poor now, this will improve manifold.

    This will come about partly because the technology is being created as we write, but also because such a system will be more CO2 efficient. PCs probably wont be called PCs; more like a ‘Media Centre’ or some such, but will be referred to on the street as ‘My Conn (ection)’. They will not need huge amounts of planet guzzling physics/chemistry to open up a window on the web. PC manufacturers wont like it at first as it means they’re having to sell $100 screen/keyboard combos, but they’ll sell lots so that wont be a problem. Viruses will be a thing of the past once you take personal computers out of the equation.

    I doubt Microsoft will exist in 2029 – any company that arrogantly redesigns ‘standards’ that no-one else subscribes to is doomed. Facebook is a mess now, so unless some radical change happens there soon, that too will vanish. MySpace is getting too slow and cumbersome due to having to wait while the advertising downloads before seeing any content, so unless that changes, there’ll be no MySpace either.

    You will no longer buy music. You will rent it at something like 2c a tune – each time you play it, it will cost you 2c, but you wont notice that because money will also disappear. We’ll all have a card that carries our credits, and the card will be used for everything – card readers will appear on buses, trains, taxi’s etc. They will also be on the doors of buildings (like clubs – see below) for you to buy entrance. They will be anywhere and everywhere you use coins at the moment.*

    Snail Mail will vanish. All comms will be by electron. Parcels will be registered online, a courier will pick them up and deliver them to their destination. Fast Food and Groceries will all be ordered online and the ‘shop’ as such, will be vanishing by 2029. People still need face-to-face interaction, so there’ll be Social Clubs, most probably with a theme (like music, video or Our Village), where people can congregate – with wireless access of course.

    The satellite connection system will be beginning to replace telephone lines in many areas and all calls will be VOIP. We will have a much improved video phone that does not drop frames. Google Earth will be realtime, so the photos of your roof will be as they are at the time you look at them, but certain ‘black spots’ will cover military installations and other sensitive targets.

    In 2029 large hosting companies will have secured the server market with CMS systems allowing people to buy space for their company/hobby, although most people will interact with ‘webnodes’ rather than self-contained ‘websites’.

    Nodes like Sitepoint will be discussing Web 4.0 and there will be NO FTL travel, NO Transporters, NO colony on Mars. The population of the planet will be 15 billion and, having stabalised (or come to terms with) the climate, the current scaremongering/pressure group warnings will be about the food supply. It’s possible that there will be no private transport, and public transport will be fueled by sustainable power, but most people will work from home anyway.

    In 2029, we will be discussing autocars – you book one, it turns up, you put your card in the slot, give it a post code, climb in and climb out again when it gets there, having watched a movie on the way. In the 2029 version of this post, the Autocar will be a prediction for the 2049 celebration.


    *The often cited danger inherent in this is of course, the ability of the bank or government to switch you off; make you a non-person. I don’t think that will happen because in doing so, they remove you from their control and create a Grey World where barter is the controlling force. Enough of those and your ordered system comes crashing down.

  • Suzanne

    I shall be 74 in 20 years time, hope I am still around to see what develops.

  • omg, i *loved* grannies garden – we would fight over who would get to play it during lunch time in grade 5. haha

  • Nigel

    MODERATOR – Feel free to submit all or only some of the below:

    In addition to your enjoyable thoughts on our future on the web, here are a few more:

    – I think the spread from non-techie to totally-immersed-electronically-every-minute-of-your-life will expand exponentially.

    – Flash cards that store much more than today’s hard drives and run much faster than today’s RAM simms.

    – Flash/RAM cards that are tailored to store and operate specific software packages (i.e. Adobe CS6 – :)) and can be as easily inserted/removed from a computing system as today’s memory stick.

    – Operating systems will no longer be needed. The computer as we know it will become decentralized smarter components which will interface with each other through a simple, fast, shared protocol – SATA II protocol already allows us to run a hard drive inside or outside the computer at the same speed. Monitors will be controlled by attached video cards; all computers such as a Blackberry phone, Palmtop or laptop will automatically get the best resolution for the screen being used. Dumb processors will become available – a processor you can attach to your phone/ID card/personal storage unit to speed up process-intensive tasks (It has always bugged me that the big computer manufacturers force me to purchase a new operating system with one of their computers, when there is no reason not to use the operating system on my old computer). This will also be driven by people’s need to easily and seemlessly move their computing services to many locations (home, work, car, hotel) – see “hands off” vehicles below.

    – City (and eventually highway) traffic will be “hands off” with traffic lights a thing of the past. Private and public vehicles will be electric and run on a combined local/city (highway) network running vehicles in a system that will still allow passengers to make decisions and take over control of the vehicle (if rated to drive). Passenger vehicles will be offered in a much wider array of options, both in technology and layouts. Vehicle technology would include 4-wheel steering and 4-wheel in-wheel electric drive, solar car bodies, very large capacity quick-charge batteries, object sensors, exterior view cams, no mirrors, en-route road updates with auto re-routing technology, auto emergency response requests. Interiors will become much more specific and modular (to allow quick and cheap re-purposing): the full-service mobile office for sales, service, realty and security services; the lounge; the sleeping unit; the party room. Tired, drunk, stoned, furious, suicidal, aroused? – no longer a problem on the road if you can’t endanger others(even as a pedestrian)! Insurance companies will force the issue to make insuring a car affordable to everyone again. North Americans will eventually move their continental greed for speed to raceways.

    – Main stream media will remain allive and well, but I see an end to most STREAMING media. Streaming TV is already mostly viewed via cable, so why not have download TV? Consumers want it, especially to be able to choose not to receive advertizing, “paid programs” and re-runs. It should be immensely cheaper if you’re only paying for cable companies, program distribution sites and production companies – no more endless numbers of TV channels, advertizing, re-runs, and especially lately – paid programs (long running ads). Each production sinks or swims on its own, based on the number of downloads (even ads should be available as optional downloads!). Blu-ray finally becomes a disk format used in computing and not a reason to overcharge for a movie.

    – Online education for children and adults alike who can use their course work and or take an exam to certify to a WORLD standard – for kindergarten to PhDs. This is very similar to the need that will bring in download TV. All too many schools where I live (Canada) are more interested in their future: job protection; and plain old making lotsa money and have lost site of their responsibility as a PUBLIC service to their community. 3-month diplomas in the 80s have now become 3-year degrees, 2-year degrees in the 80s are now 4-year degrees. This leaves the (Canadian) student in a worsening situation where less is learned and learning incentive is dropping through the floor – add to that the increasing tendency to shut Canadian students out of Canadian colleges and Universities in favour of high-paying foreign students – and you have a great recipe for savvy high-tech education developers to step in and run circles around the existing education system AND make good money because it is far more cost effective.

    – Power transactions will be the next kid on the block. They will be as complex as online banking. Solar (pv) and wind power generation and energy storage technology is poised to take off in the near future. To manage these new players on the field, the next big business will be power transactions at the largest and smallest levels. Selling power whether from a huge power utility or from your solar house’s excess generation, and buying power as a large industry to topping off your electric car’s battery while at someone else’s house, will require an extremely efficient and adaptable power grid managed by an equally efficient and adaptable transaction technology – banks are going to love this!

    – And don’t get me going on private space habitats!

    – Despite far more awesome technology in our near future, the one thing I DON”T see being solved as it scares the heck out of everyone including me, is the task of bringing the world population back down to 2 billion souls peacefully, gently and in a way that most people believe in. That alone would reduce pollution by more than two thirds and likely solve food and water shortages, period.

  • The future is very unpredictable, let alone speaking for 20 years. I like the three poins you have listed up and I agree with you on them.

    Thanks for sharing!

  • I suspect the web will be entirely unrecognisable in 20 years. I suspect it will have become so integrated into everything we do that we’ll have long since stopped thinking about it as something separate.

    I think the predictions you make probably represent the next two or three years, maybe even the next five, but not necessarily beyond that.

    It think one thing we could predict is that there will be many more ways of accessing the internet and many more interfaces than we currently use.

  • @PatrickSamphire – Like I said, it’s what I’m excited about over the next few years. I can’t even picture five years!

    @auschick – too right! I don’t know if it was ever in the US but there was a whole generation of kids in the UK, Australia and NZ who get Granny’s Garden :)

  • Arlen

    It won’t exist in any form recognizable to us today. In 20 years it will have morphed into something basic, just like operating systems are today. You won’t know and won’t care where the application/data you’re working with is, anymore than it matters to you today what sector of the hard drive your data is stored. It’ll just be there, and that’s what counts.

    Security will be just as hard then as it is now, just as difficult to maintain, and just as liable to penetration.

    Most newspapers will be electronic, not paper (this will most likely be true in ten years or less, not twenty) and magazines will have started down the same road.

    Oh, and in 20 years, we still won’t have a model for Internet advertising that people won’t object to, Porn will still be a major traffic component, and reporters will still be quitting in protest when their news magazine starts to publish on the net.

  • nandita

    I got hooked to WEB when it was pretty young in india and have not separated since.

    I would be 56 in 20 years time and would envision WEB to be with me every where I go in 20 years.

    I would see myself PART of and not a mere spectator of the entertainment played out on the WEB.

    I would envision knowledge and content on the WEB to reach a level of confusion first in the next 10 years and then reach a more stable stage in 20 years.

    I would like to see people getting self educated and certified with help of web. I would like WEB to take money and infrastructure away from the equation and make education free and accessible to the world at large.

    I would like WEB to propogate sharing, peace, and respect more. How I dont know yet, but I am sure we will figure out.

  • ‘The Web’ will not exist in 20 years time. No-one will think about where the information they use comes from any more than, today, we think about where the electricity comes from when we switch on the light.

  • Anonymous

    Interesting piece Raena. We can’t really imagine techy stuff that far ahead. But I’m not concerned what the web will look like in 20 years – what will I look like in 20 years? I’m 74 now! Too horrible to contemplate.

    In the meantime, I’ll spend retirement time hand coding html, css etc. and continue to be amazed at its power.


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