Did you know that it’s been nearly twenty years since the first website was placed online? Have you ever thought about how the Internet and the web have evolved in time?
Ponder it: the Internet, a complex series of interconnected networks, protocols, servers, cables, and computers, has evolved from its early days as U.S. Department of Defense research project into the foundation for the World Wide Web, what we use today to interact with one another via browsers, email, Twitter, Skype (Skype), and millions of other online tools.
As we approach the imminent launch of the Apple Tablet and analyze new trends coming out of this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (our full coverage), now is a good time to reflect on what the web will look like in the next decade — and beyond.
I have four big predictions to share for what the web will look like in the near future. This is what I expect in the evolution of our online lives:
The Web Will Be Accessible Anywhere
Our society couldn’t operate today without Wi-Fi, but it didn’t become prevalent until the early to mid-2000s. Before that, we used Ethernet cables and before that, our primary method of connecting to the web was via phone lines. Every few years, our method of accessing web changes to be faster and more accessible.
Two things make me believe that the web will be accessible from anywhere and at any time: the rise of wireless 3G and 4G networks and the likelihood for nationwide Wi-Fi to blanket the U.S. and beyond.
Let’s first talk about 3G: since its introduction in the early 2000s, it has quickly spread to major cities worldwide. Accessing the web is now as simple as pulling out your smartphone, and it’s getting faster with the introduction of 4G networks and 4G phones. The Apple Tablet is even rumored to have a data plan on Verizon and AT&T’s 3G networks. More and more laptops come with built-in 3G access as well.
Nationwide Wi-Fi is the more exciting prospect, though. In 2008, the FCC had an auction for the 700 MHz wireless spectrum. A lot of attention was focused on that auction when Google (Google) joined as a multi-billion dollar bidder. Some speculated that Google wanted to turn the spectrum into a nationwide Wi-Fi network. While Verizon eventually won, a nationwide Wi-Fi network is still very possible and, in fact, seems logical given the direction of web technology today.
The point is that more devices will have access to these networks and that these networks will be more prevalent as time goes on. Ten to twenty years down the road, people will wonder how we managed with laptops disconnected from a Wi-Fi or 4G signal.
Web Access Will Not Focus Around the Computer
In a column on CNN earlier this month, Mashable’s Adam Ostrow explored one of the biggest trends at CES: the embedding of the web outside of the computer. At present, we focus our Internet use in the U.S. on our laptops. In Japan though, many more access the web primarily through their phones, a trend that is just beginning to sweep the states.
This is just the beginning. New Internet-enabled TVs will allow us to browse from the living room and soon our cars will become Wi-Fi hotspots.
The Apple Tablet looks to be the next stage of this evolution. Rumor has it that not only is the device going to have 3G access, but Apple envisions it is a shared piece of hardware among the family. Instead of having to jump onto the computer to check your email, you can just have your girlfriend or boyfriend pass you the tablet to check out what’s going on.
In ten years, computers will only be a small percentage of how we use our web. We’re going to be accessing it from nearly every device and appliance we own.
The Web Will Be Media-Centric
The time of text-based interactions is going to diminish until they’re just a minor component of our web experience. Yes, we will always write, blog, and tweet, but as more and more devices adopt touchscreen interfaces and alternatives to the keyboard and mouse (it’s already happening), our reliance on videos from YouTube (YouTube) and Hulu (Hulu), social games like FarmVille, and interactive interfaces like the iPhone OS will grow rapidly.
Here are some of my thoughts on how I think this media-centric web will come to be:
- Voice-to-text technology will be a major part of the media-centric web. The technology isn’t accurate enough to use daily yet, but devices like the Nexus One are pushing its limits. In a decade or two, it’ll be accurate enough to be a viable replacement to our keyboards.
- Interfaces that rely on motions are going to be more important to computing and the media-focused web. Apple popularized phone touchscreen interfaces, and the Tablet has a good shot and popularizing that type of interface on larger-sized screens. While we have a lot more to figure out before touchscreens are popularized on the desktop, I do think it’s time isn’t far away. I look forward to abandoning the old mouse and keyboard interface.
- In the future, you won’t even have to touch the screen. HP’s “Wall of Touch” actually doesn’t require users to touch the screen in order to interact with it, and Microsoft’s Project Natal looks to turn gaming into a controller-less experience. This is the future.
- These interfaces simply make it easier to bring up images, videos, music, and other multi-media.
- It’s not about keyboard commands, but about apps, drag-and-drop, and having an immersive experience.
Social Media Will Be Its Largest Component
Stats published by Nielsen show that social media usage has increased by 82% in the last year, an astronomical rise. Facebook (Facebook), Twitter (Twitter), YouTube, blogs, and social interaction are becoming the focus of our online interactions, even more than search.
We’re social creatures, so it was only a matter of time until we figured out how to make the web an efficient medium for communication, sharing, and forging friendships. Now that we’re finally implementing the social layer though, it’s tough to find a scenario where the rise of social media doesn’t continue.
In ten years, when you access the web, most of the time you spend will be to connect with your friends. Almost all of that will be on social networks and through social media. It will be the #1 reason why we ever pull out our phones, tablets, or computers.