the web in twenty minus five

My friend Stu tagged me to answer these questions five years ago:

  • How has the Web changed your life?
  • How has the Web changed business and society?
  • What do you think the Web will look like in 20 years?

Here are my answers, with minor edits and some commentary in []'s. The original post is here.


Ok, but 1) I don’t think I have anything unique to say and 2) we’re all wrong about what it’ll look like in [15] years.

How has the Web changed my life?

It’s strange to talk about the web as if it is the internet. I grew up in the late 80’s through the 90’s along with the emergence of the web as the dominant realm of the net. When I first connected, it was all about email, usenet, irc, and bbs’s. “Web” was an afterthought. Overnight, pretty much, it become the primary interface to the net. And then, the primary platform.

It’s the platform part that has impacted us most. My life is enriched by unprecedented access to commerce (amazon! threadless! zappos!), content (youtube! hulu! gutenberg!), people (facebook! twitter! linkedin!), and publishing (blogs! twitter! tumblr!). The last two have mattered most to me.

[I’ve gone from a nobody buried inside of IBM to a very-minor-somebody embroiled in #startuplife.] 

How has the Web changed business and society?

First off, we’re not talking about all businesses or all societies—really only a minority of either that are the majority in most of our spheres. There are plenty of people who could use some very simple, basic necessities that the web can’t supply. [But the internet has had an impact—see M-Pesa.]

So business and society: web as platform for connecting, producing, publishing, consuming, and trading on values. It’s a lever with a positive multiplier effect on reach and a negative multiplier on cost of achieving that reach.

The web has created a whole field of startups that require next-to-nothing to get going. It’s given a whole slew of people who would’ve once just been company (wo)men an alternative.

It has created a way to organize and collaborate that’s enabled everyone (good, bad and ugly) to come together with others along any lines for any reasons with however much anonymity for however long on any terms.

What will the Web look like in [15] years? 

  • It will remain a platform with immense multiplier effects
  • Web/desktop/here/there/os/app/interface lines will [blur for users and] only exist to the technology plumbers and enthusiasts
  • More embedded and ambient devices creating new interaction points
  • More ambient triggers for sensors and sensing
  • Touch and voice as natural interfaces
  • Physically responsive interfaces enter the real world
  • Consolidated [but distributed] virtual identities
  • Won’t solve poverty
  • Won’t solve despots/theocracies/totalitarianism/etc [but It’s certainly thrown a wrench in the works]
  • Won’t solve disease
  • Won’t solve people hell bent on destroying other people
  • Won’t solve exuberant-irrationalism