What does the Internet mean to you?
I first got into the Internet around 1998, when things were just starting to warm up. Back then, whilst I was still a nipper, 14 years old, the Internet was a simpler place: ICQ was the king of IM, everyone had their own GeoCities website, splayed with low resolution adverts and under construction animated GIFs, and people connected to the Internet over a 56Kbps dial-up modem. Creativity was being redefined; rather than content being created mostly by publishers and professionals, it was being generated by everyone in their own rooms.
Suddenly the strongly defined lines within which creativity had been coloring petered out and anyone could come in with their proverbial crayon of ideas and scrawl over the woodwork. Yes, this did result in what can only be called “hideou” examples of usability and travesties of design, but it exposed an entire generation to the promise of more input to come.
In 2001, I got my first taste of PHP development when I started using Invision Power Boards to power my first forums-based website. I built my first full CMS off my own back in 2002, the architecture of which was loosely based off PHP-Nuke. I continued to develop that CMS for several years, working up to a complete procedural CMS. Whilst in university I then proceeded to rebuild it using Object Oriented design principles.
Starting 2005, the Internet became to be what it was always supposed to be, an information repository. I started using the Internet to learn more and more about computers, programming, networking and web development and design.
With the advent of the social networks, popularized with the rise of sites such as MySpace and Hi5, we’ve seen the focus of the Internet switch from an information repository to a social activity. Sites such as Facebook and Twitter have grown to be inhumanly popular, initially limiting the personality that one could convey in their online space into predefined fields, but now enhancing it by providing a framework to link their online lives together. The Facebook wall, the Twitter API, and the 1001 applications that use both to update everyone in the world with your Farmville status.
The Internet today is a different beast to what it was in 1998: everyone has access to it, Wikipedia and Google make information easier to access than ever, and every single business worth its salt (and some not worth it) has a website with all the bells and whistles. There is so much commercialism on the web now; some would lament this as a bad thing, saying it’s no longer a user driven innovation since big business got its hands on it. I disagree: in a market with every stall-keeper shouting his or her head off, you need to have a truly amazing sell to stay afloat.
The social media worked its way into this by being giant online advertisers, including Google itself when it joined the social networks with it’s social website, Google+.
Today is an exciting time to be in the field: with eCommerce moving onto the social networks and entire storefronts (from catalog through to purchase) on Facebook, the amount of innovation around is astonishing, and having the opportunity to be a part of that is something I wouldn’t miss for the world.
So, what is next?
What do I think is the future of the Internet? well, predicting the future is a dangerous thing to do! Specially, when it is filled with the wrecks of prophets who thought they knew what would happen. However, it is very obvious that the Internet is going, with fast paces, into the mobile world. Messaging, and particularly instant messaging, something of a new genre for the Internet - are here to stay, and are only going to get better. recently, we have worked out easy ways to send instant messages from mobile phones to computers and back again.
The other thing which will grow through is what they call VoIP - or Internet phones. Already we are seeing these being adopted both by large corporations in internal networks and by hobbyists in networks such as SKYPE - this isn’t going to go away either, because at this point of time it offers very significant savings as compared with old fashioned telephony costs. It will take a while because telecommunications companies aren’t exactly nimble, but one day the convergence of Internet and telephone futures will arrive.
Another thing we can expect to see is a lot of new developments in what is called the ‘peer to peer’ space. If you know what Napster was, you can see what peer to peer is. Peer to peer is unlike a traditional network with a central computer through which all traffic passes - peer to peer allows almost direct communication on the network with any other computer, for tasks such as trading music and files. Napster spread like wildfire across the Internet, and since then we have seen many other similar developments. Applications like this will continue.
Remembering again that the Internet was built for another purpose altogether, and has been patched up like a quilt over the intervening years, its inevitable that some work will be done to give the Internet greater security and stop the spread of fraud. Similarly, those spam messages that use fraud (they pretend to be someone else sending the message) can be fixed. I suspect that it’s only a matter of time before we have a more trustworthy and secure Internet.
Another thing that will become apparent as this all happens is the necessity for access for all people in all countries, at affordable rates. Once a medium goes so far with penetration of usage, it starts to become an economic necessity - and at the same time, a human right to have access. That’s starting to happen with the Internet, and growth won’t go away for a long time.
All this means that our future Internet, rather than having 600 million users, may have close to 6 billion. So we are about 10% of the way there, and there is a lot of growth to come.