Published on: Saturday 31st October 1998 By: Janus Boye
After having looked back in my previous article: WWW - How It All Begun, I'll try come with some thoughts on where the Web might be heading. Or rather, where it could be heading...
Before I do anything hazardous, please let me begin my saying, that the Web now is moving in many different directions, as it has matured into such a huge and exciting media. I'll only be covering very few directions, and all the thoughts are fully at my own expense.
At any time, please feel free to use the Feedback link on the bottom of the article to give me your feedback on this article or just your comments about this very interesting topic.
Every now and then, we hear, mostly via online media, that the Web creates community. Somebody has even put an equality character (=) between the two words: Web and Community.
One of the many advantages of the Web, is that users with equal interests have a good chance of finding each other. People interested in soccer find each other, people interested in solar eclipses find each other, people interested in Boa Constrictor's find each other, and so on. Newsgroups, chat rooms, and search engines are good starting places to start looking for people with interests that matches yours.
Perhaps the Web does create some sort of community within these groups of people, but just remember, that a community is people, who have greater things in common, than a fascination with a narrowly defined topic. Or does this only count in the 'real-world'?
At SixDegrees, a Web site that claims that everybody is connected with everybody else through, at most, six people. Everybody seems to be connected 'to some degree' as they say. Is this a community? I, for one, do not think so.
When talking about communities it is important to consider the exit-costs of leaving the community. If you want to leave your existing off-line (real-world) community, that would including moving and a whole new set of neighbors.
If you want to leave any online community, that would include turning off your monitor, and what would you then have lost?
I think that the higher the exit-cost the higher the value of the community will be to its members.
If HTML continues it's fragmentation (one browser supporting a different set of tags than the other), this will be the sure death of the Web. Imagine a whole set of pages created with tags, where mostly only would work in one browser. Imagine a text on pages saying: This page was optimized for the Janus Boye Browser 4. Optimized using the special tags I would implement in my non-standard proprietary browser. Perhaps the only thing users with Microsoft Internet Explorer or Netscape Navigator would see, would be the above text, plus a link to a site, where they could download my browser.
If this happened, you would be excluded from content created for some other browser. If the above mentioned site was a site that did e-commerce as IBM calls it, the problem would probably not be that big, since the company behind the site probably would not sell that much, with too many users excluded.
Imagine the above site being your governments news site? Imagine the above site being your local library? Or your kids high-school? Perhaps this has already happened?
In a not too distant future, I can easily imagine being able to use TV to access the Web. This is already happening. I can also imagine using my normal phone to dial to a Web site, which would then read the local weather report for me, or local news, or new postings in my selected newsgroups.
Through wear-able computers or my handheld device, I'll naturally also have Web access.
While driving my car, the Web could also be used to navigate, plus it could download music from the Web, or read my email....Using speech recognition I might even be able to talk to the machine, which would then compose an email, and when I said Send, the email would then be gone.
But, at some point, we are going to be hitting the wall, and start creating technology only for the sake of technology. And this is not very useful. It's very much like users displaying their very first Java Applet, a waving guy that takes forever to download, on their Web site.
Less is more could be the lesson learned here. It's like trying to do everything and ending up doing nothing. Mediocre at everything but not good at anything.
Perhaps it is time to shift the focus from new technologies to improving already existing technologies.
More and more Web sites today seems to be taking the Yahoo approach design wise (we've even done it ourselves!). This might be explained by the less is more line used above.
What's important, is that sites that have done this load faster. Even though some of you might be using T3 or ADSL lines, many people are still behind sluggish 14.4, 28.8 and 33.6Kb modems. Many users also pay their own phonebill. If you have a huge, but useful, Java applet, the users will be paying for three things, when doing business with you online: The download time, mailing, and the product. Offline, I'll only be paying for the product, and my phonebill would not skyrocket. What do you think I prefer?
An almost forgotten or over-looked segment of users are people without a mouse (how do you then navigate?), or blind users (what content do you then have?). Further information is available: Introduction to Web Accessibility.
Imagine being without your beloved BACK-button for a few moments. It would almost be like being disabled right?
In a hopefully not too distant future, I hope to be able to perform queries on search engines without being told that there are 1,000,000 matched. There's just no way, that I will ever visit all these, some of them might even be removed in the meantime, so about 25 would always be enough. Perhaps this is another place, where the focus should be shifted? From collecting pages, to improving data quality. I would rather have 25 quality pages that all worked, instead of 10,000 where even some of the Top Ten do not work.
Having blinking text on your page, too many animated pictures, 20 different fonts and colors should also be avoided. It's just too painful to digest.
The other day, I saw a graph, that stated that it is mostly people in metropolitan areas that trade online. I thought this was rather interesting, as these users, are the users, who normally are surrounded with shops, malls, and thus are able to buy almost anything within walking distance.
Wouldn't it make more sense, if users from rural areas, were the ones doing all the commerce online? These are the users, where trading over the Web presents the greatest benefit, as these users are used to having everything mailed to their residence.
Perhaps users in metropolitan areas are more spoiled, or perhaps it is just too expensive to connect to an ISP from the rural districts.
With the current financial crisis in the Far East, Russia and Latin America, the Web holds an interesting role. Communication is now moving at an all-time high pace. If one currency goes up fast, you just buy your goods online in a different currency, or from a vendor in a different country.
Utilizing the constant news feed from the Web, you're also able to sell your Malaysian stocks within seconds, shift them onto US bonds, and then onto German Marks, when the US interest rate goes down. All this can be done very cheap, and very fast through the Web.
Is this a good or bad thing? Perhaps it's good for the private investor, but is it good for a country, that is on the virge of a financial breakdown?
There are so many issues that remains unsolved.
Web censorship is an interesting topic. Should schools be equipped with filtering software, so they are unable to visit "inappropriate" sites? And who is to decide, what is inappropriate? Teachers, the software vendor, the government, or the parents?
What will the Web mean to politics?
Is there life after Web?
CERN, the place where it all started, http://www.cern.ch
CNN CustomNews, customize your daily newsfeed http://customnews.cnn.com
Productivity Works, a browser that talks! http://www.prodworks.com/