It may be hard to believe, but the web is only about 25 years old. Most people tend to think of the internet and the web as the same thing, but in reality they are completely different. The internet has been around much longer than the web. Tim Berners-Lee invented the web in 1990, but very few people knew about it then. In fact, it wasn’t until 1993 that the first browser for Windows PCs was released.
In the quarter-century since then, the web has undergone staggering growth and change. No one in 1990 could have imagined how fast it would grow and how dependent society and commerce would become on the web in such a short amount of time. In that brief period, giants such as Google and Facebook came into being. Powerhouse YouTube was launched just 12 years ago in 2005.
If the web has changed so much in the last 25 years, can anyone predict what it will be like 25 years from now?
The short answer is no, but that never stops people from trying. There are some generalizations we can make that are fairly easy.
Perhaps the most unexpected aspect of the web from its beginning is its pervasiveness. Thanks to the rise of smartphones, the web is with us wherever we go. The majority of growth today in the web world is on mobile devices. Making sure your company’s website is responsive and appealing on mobile devices is the best way to keep up with your competition. Notice I didn’t say get ahead of your competition. If you aren’t investing in your website to keep up with current mobile technologies, rest assured your competition is and you are falling behind.
When the web was first born, it consisted mainly of pages that were strictly text with maybe a grainy image at the top. Modern websites today are filled with large, colorful, vibrant imagery and typography designed to draw you into the site and keep you there. In the future, sites will become more interactive, and, with the rise of augmented reality (AR), even be able to interact with your environment.
One of the less pleasing aspects of the web is the growing loss of privacy. Many websites track visitors while on their sites and even after users leave and go to other sites. The next time you go to a home improvement website, keep an eye on how often you see ads for that site (or one of their competitors.) The ads will likely follow you to Facebook or even a random movie theater site as you check out the latest movie times. If you physically enter a large store like Lowe’s or Walmart today, your smartphone knows this and informs you of items on sale that you may be interested in. The phone determines your interests by tracking everything you search for on your phone. In the future, you’ll probably see large video screens or even holographic salespeople at stores that will spring to life, greet you by name, and tell you about the great deals they have just for you today.
Here to stay
It may seem obvious to say that the web is here to stay, but that was not necessarily the case when it first started. Lots of great ideas die quickly because they never quite gain the traction they need in popular society. The web today represents an investment of trillions of dollars by governments and companies around the world. Getting that kind of investment in 1990 was by no means a foregone conclusion.
Going forward, websites will become more immersive, ubiquitous, and faster (though never quite fast enough.) Investment will continue as companies strive to find the next great thing to launch on the web to outdo, or at least keep up with, their competition.
I for one can’t wait to see what the web looks like in 2042.