Reflecting on 20 years of the World Wide Web
I grew up in a small town called Fairborn, Ohio and we didn't move to Virginia until 1993. I can remember my only interactions with a computer around that time being the one my dad had at work (he was a minister of a church) and how I loved to play Wheel of Fortune. Having access to programs and information meant getting a physical disk and having the computer read it to load the program. I can also remember us having a Tandy computer at home and being able to load games on their like bowling which used the letters on the screen to animate a ball and pins. At some point in the 90s we got a desktop computer that ran Windows 95 and later 98. We had dial-up service through Compuserve and I can remember the first "woah" moment for me was when I typed the first part of my uncle's email address (before the @aol.com) into an instant messenger client and saw he was online and started a conversation with him. My whole family was blown away that we could just instantly converse with someone like that. I can remember Yahoo when it was more of a "directory" than a search engine and most websites I found were nothing to look at. I don't think things really got interesting for me until I discovered IRC and then Napster came around. I discovered an interconnected web of people sharing files and no matter what I or my friends wanted I could get it. I remember finding early copies of an Nsync album and selling a few cds (I had asked for a CD burner for Christmas, a really big deal since it cost around $80 for one) I made at school for $7 a piece. I also dabbled in HTML a bit at this time. I had a free website on Angelfire and would look up the codes for how to make the text on the screen look a certain way. I'd find scripts you could run to replace images when you rolled over them with a mouse. Naturally there were a lot of animated men with construction hats in yellow and black. Much like Google products being in perpetual beta these days, back then a website was always in a state of construction. When I left for Germany in 2000 I was able to take a laptop with me along with a webcam and I built a site that would broadcast my image back to my family. I didn't take advantage of it too often but thinking of that now sort of blows my mind. I would copy the source code for a website I liked the design of and change the images and text to make it my own. I only had access to dial-up in Germany, much slower than the cable modem we had gotten back home, but I made it work. In 2002 I finally got to experience what my older friends explained was one of the beauties of going to college, an extremely high speed network that you could share with all your friends. It wasn't just about going to websites or creating your own. You could play games, share music, chat. With a lack of any major social network it was still very much DIY in terms of notifying others of your whereabouts and what was going on. Amazingly Aol Instant Messenger was still a big player (which is a pretty big deal since I had been using that since we first got access to the internet back in the mid-90s). It's incredible to think of where we've come in such a seemingly short period of time. I had to double-check when Myspace was created to make sure it wasn't around when I went to college and only then realized it didn't gain popularity until 2006! We've seen more innovation in the past 5 years of the web than we have since its inception. It feels like this era of the web is at a crossroads. We not only have extremely large social networks dominating the ecosystem but the variance in devices we access the web with has grown to include the phones we talk on every day and odd tablet devices that didn't exist 2 years ago. If I had to go out on a limb and make any predictions for the coming years my hope would be that the web would continue to be this device-neutral place where most anyone could come with any device and play along. We don't need Flash or Java to take us into the next era of the web, but we do need an environment that relies less on building specifically for this or that device or platform and instead focuses on using the web as a universal publishing platform to reach countless audiences. In any case, happy birthday Web. Next year we're totally throwing a party and finally getting you drunk.