Twenty two years is a good run for most technology these days. In fact it’s a phenomenal run. That’s how long the World Wide Web has been in existence. But I’m here today to tell you that the web as we know it is DEAD! (The irony of making this statement in a weblog post does not escape me.) What killed the web? How did it die? Is this the end of all things? Come close and I’ll tell you the story of the end of the web, but first, a little history.
The web has become synonymous with the Internet. When people today talk about the Internet, they are talking about the World Wide Web (henceforth, I’ll just call it the web). But the Internet is actually more than just the web. It is a large network of computers that use a number of protocols and services to exchange information. Email is the prime example often given of a non-web Internet service, although it can now be accessed through the web. The Internet is more the connections between the computers than it is the content. Here are a list of some Internet services, both living and dead, that you might know.
- Usenet – This is the original Internet discussion forum. Thousands of Usenet groups were created for topics ranging from computing to German fetish porn. In fact the web was first announced on a group called alt.hypertext.
- Gopher – This is a (mostly) dead Internet service that was very similar to the early web. It was text based like the early web, but instead of hyperlinks, it used numbered menus for navigation. (I am old enough to remember and have used Gopher. I actually preferred it to the web in my early Internet dealings.)
- Internet Relay Chat (IRC) – Before Facetime, Hangouts, Skype, or even AIM and Yahoo Messenger, IRC was where people came to chat with other netizens (remember when that was a word?).
- File Transfer Protocol (FTP) – This was an early, and still in use Internet protocol for file sharing. In the days before BitTorrent and the Pirate Bay, anonymous FTP servers were where the pirates went to trade their warez.
Before the web these were the main services that were used on the Internet. They were all text based and text information was the main thing being shared on most of them. If you wanted a richer multimedia experience, early Internet consumers turned to services like America Online, CompuServe, and Prodigy. They offered walled gardens of multimedia content.
But then came the web. At first it was text based too, but multimedia was quickly added. With the advent of the graphical Mosaic web browser, then Netscape Navigator, and finally Internet Explorer, the web took off like a rocket. Standards bodies were set up and mostly agreed upon and the golden age of the web began.
From the mid-90s to about the year 2000 the web grew at a tremendous rate, but after that the newness started to wear off. People began to wonder what was next for the web. In 1999 a new term was coined, Web 2.0. This term referred to the use of dynamic content on web sites (until that point most web content was just static content on a page). Web 2.0 allowed the web consumer to interact with content. We were on the verge of a new golden age, but there was a threat. After crushing Netscape Navigator in the great browser wars, Microsoft allowed it’s browser Internet Explorer to languish. Innovation ground to a halt and web developers spent most of their time writing around rendering errors in IE’s browsing engine. Finally, in 2003 a new web browser called Firefox rose from the ashes to challenge IE and allowed Web 2.0 to reach its full potential.
Okay, now the history lesson’s over. We get to the heart of it in Part 2!