Can You Imagine the Web in 20 Years?

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?

Sponsors