The web appears to me to be evolving in a fairly predictable way. It’s the features that are unpredictable. There are two patterns at play here and they interrelate. Following on from this one can predict the general direction of where we are headed.
Let’s start off by looking at some of the underlying factors.
The first one is technology. It is fairly safe to assume that processing power is going to increase, that storage is going to increase, that bandwidth is going to increase, the number of connected devices is going to increase etc. As time goes on we have an increased ability to move data around and an increased ability to process it into information and an increasing number of places to draw it from and send it to.
The second is motivation. What people want to achieve (in general, not specifically with respect to the internet) is pretty much constant.
- They want to be entertained
- They want to do business better
- They want easy access to information they need
- They want to express themselves
And this all boils down to acquiring data and manipulating it into information. Sometimes this can be done by a computer but the really important information tends to be of a nature that it can only be done by a human. Computers are getting better and projects like Wolfram Alpha are testament to this but at the end of the day humans tend to do it better for most things.
The underlying principle of the internet is it’s ability not to move data around but to allow people to connect and share information and knowledge. This is important. It is not the technology, it’s the people at the end and how you allow them to connect and interact.
The evolution of the web is following a two step progression with a predictable pattern of increased freedom. Step one involves the creation of a new feature. Step two involves a means to organise it. Let’s follow some examples:
Step one: Static content
Step two: Directories to organise this content
Step one: Organisations such as newspapers get online, content increases dramatically but is still largely static
Step two: Too hard for directories to cope, search engines emerge
Step one: Forums become popular
Step two: Search engines improve to adequately index faster changing content
Step one: Blogs arrive on the scene and anyone can publish their own content
Step two: Aggregators such as Digg, Slashdot, etc enter the scene
Step one: Social activities (Facebook, Flickr etc) arrive on the scene. Now people can not only share their own content but they can also mash it together easily.
Step two: A suite of tools that allow you to combine all of these services into one location
Step one: Twitter and friends
Step two: ??
(This is just a vague overview of the big picture and is missing a lot of detail, it is also my opinion, your opinion may be different and if it is I’d love to hear what it is, so leave a comment)
So we are constantly moving towards information being created by us, for us and increasingly becoming instant and autonomous. (this is not just on the web, take for example the popularity of reality TV and people being able to vote to influence its outcome) Information is becoming more personal, more influenced by the users and is flowing quicker. But as each new feature is introduced and takes hold there is a rush of information into this new medium. Eventually it becomes too much for most people to make meaningful use of. I know there is a wealth of information here, I just need a way to actually find it. Each new feature treats information in a new way and the old ways of organising it tend not to be very effective. So then someone creates a new way to organise this new information and allow people to easily access it.
To effectively organise and allow for access to this new information involves understanding two factors:
- What is the nature of the information (what does it represent, what are the relationships, how do people create the information etc)
- What do people want to know (what is their motive for accessing the information)
My guess is that the next big thing on the web is not going to be a new feature but a new way to organise this information. A lot of people talk about the semantic web but I think there are a few steps inbetween where we currently are and there.
We have recently (recently being the last few years) had a flurry of services that allow us to easily create and share information in a variety of different ways (blogs, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, Facebook, Google Maps, Wikipedia etc). They are representing different types of information but that information is related. There have been several attempts to merge these but none has pulled it off elegantly yet.
The next step will involve a system that realises the subtle relationships between these different pieces of data, can link them together in ways that fulfill our motives and can present that in an easy to use, elegant interface. It will compile information from all of these sources in ways that flow with how you intend to use it. It will suggest information that you never knew existed but is what you need based on understanding the underlying relationships.
I don’t know what it is going to be but I am excited to see what people come up with.
This is just my stab at trying to understand this. In all likelihood it is incorrect or contains some holes. I would love to hear your opinions and thoughts on this topic.