You can date the birth of the Internet to a number of different milestones, going back to Vannevar Bush’s 1945 article in the Atlantic Monthly. A common milestone used is the standardization of the Internet Protocol Suite (TCP/IP) in 1982. But that’s not really what we think of as the Internet.
Now, the word Internet is often interchangeable with the Web. But what we think of as the Web wasn’t born until a decade later. In 1989, Tim-Berners Lee introduced his Information Management Proposal to his bosses at CERN, where he was consulting at the time. In April of 1993, CERN announced that the technology developed under this proposal would be free and open to the public. This was the last element needed to bring forth what we think of today as the Web.
So the Web, which defines so much of our world, is only 20 years old.
If the Web was a person, it would be just coming out of the angsty teen years and starting to make some grown-up decisions about what it wants to be when it grows up. It probably has gone through some obvious bad choices like MySpace and Yahoo!, but at least one of these is trying for a new relationship with a re-invented personality.
There are some decisions that seem to be defining. We’ve done things as teens that will probably define us, to some extent, as adults. The Web has several elements that I think are defining and will be from now on. In some cases, a specific platform currently dominates these elements, but whether they will continue to do so is harder to predict.
Search. Google was not the first search engine, and it’s not the only one. While it seems to dominate the space, there really is only a fine line between Google and competitors offering something similar. But search itself is one of the defining features of our Web.
Reference. Wikipedia is the biggest thing out there, and it does have a critical mass of unique content. But the important thing is that we have a destination that provides information about almost anything imaginable. And, if we don’t find it, we can add it.
Social Connection. We have Facebook for friends and LinkedIn for work, though many people cross those up a lot. These two platforms have that critical mass of existing content and connections that will make them hard to unseat.
Discussion. We now post updates to Twitter, Facebook, or Google+. Some feel that Twitter is uniquely positioned, but the truth is that updates are updates. Twitter is somewhat unique in the relationships and networks it forms, but that doesn’t rise to the level of being a core element of the Web as it grows up. There are also many forums and aggregation tools. One of the leading platforms is Reddit, but it does not have an insurmountable lead.
Creativity. The Web is home to inexpensive creative efforts in many mediums. Anyone can use online tools to create, edit, and post written, audio, and visual media of all types. People complain that so much of it is bad, but I like to remember what Theodore Sturgeon said in response to the claim that 90% of science fiction was crap: “90% of everything is crap.”
I sometimes see people predict that everything is about to change—that the things we’ve just gotten accustomed to online like Google, Facebook, Amazon, or whatever are just about to fail. Part of the reasoning seems to be that these things rose out of nowhere, and that other new things will rise to replace them. But, at 20, it’s more likely that these things are becoming part of the grown-up Web.
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