Welcome back to Part 3 of our brief history of the web. We last left off around the time of the millennium and the aftermath of the dot com bust.
The New Millennium
After the year 2000, internet service charges became more affordable and “always on” broadband internet started to replace dial-up connections, providing the average user with increased data speeds. Improvements in infrastructure brought high speed internet to more people than ever before – and higher levels of internet access meant more people using the web.
The early 2000s saw blogging enter the mainstream. It owes its popularity to sites like Blogger and LiveJournal that had already been around since the late 90s, but the idea took a couple of years to take root. Around the same time, the first social media networks started to appear. Friendster (now defunct) launched in 2002, followed by MySpace and LinkedIn in 2003. These platforms allowed direct communication in ways that the web – and indeed the internet – had never seen before. LinkedIn remains an important professional communication and networking tool to this day. The progress towards social media as we know it really starts to take shape in 2006 when Twitter went live and Facebook was made available to the general public (previously it had just been for university students).
If you’re wondering what inventor of the web Tim Berners-Lee was up to during this time, his work supporting and standardising the web with the World Wide Web Consortium continued, and he was knighted in 2004.
Google was also very busy in the early 2000s, launching various platforms such as Gmail, Google Maps, Google News and Google Books. Increased internet speeds allowed for fast transmission of audio and video data, making video streaming possible. YouTube was launched in 2005, and was acquired by Google the next year.
In the mid to late 2000s, cloud computing and online “SaaS” software (Software as a Service) starts to become more prevalent. The internet crept further into our lives, with businesses like cafes and restaurants starting to provide free WiFi to their customers. Due to the increased access to media and the means to share it socially, viral crazes and joke “memes” started to gain recognition.
The Modern Era
Nearing the end of the decade, web-enabled smartphones start to take centre stage in people’s lives, with Instagram and Pinterest joining the social media sphere in 2010. With easily accessible internet in many places and decent cameras included with most phones, sharing your own pictures and video over social media saw a meteoric rise in the years that followed. Social media, smartphones and their use online became so ubiquitous that the word “selfie” was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2013.
Social media and smartphone users rose in number over the next few years, and the web became more and more enmeshed into our daily lives. But in 2013, a revelation was made about the security of our data; with the help of the Guardian, former NSA employee Edward Snowden revealed the sheer extent of surveillance that is carried out on normal people by governmental agencies, which left dumbfounded web users looking over their shoulders at every turn. Sir Tim Berners-Lee spoke of increasing surveillance and censorship of the web in 2014 is this WIRED article:
“We risk losing all that we have gained from the web so far and all the great advances still to come. The future of the web depends on ordinary people taking responsibility for this extraordinary resource and challenging those who seek to manipulate the web against the public good.”
As technology has got faster and more portable, it has become more and more ingrained in our lives. The past couple of years online have all been about growing on what has come before, and doing it faster, bigger and better. One way in which the web and the internet as a whole is changing is the move towards the “internet of things,” wherein everyday appliances have internet connectivity, like example smart meters/thermostats and stock-managing online refrigerators.
Which brings us to the present day, where many people keep their phones by their bedside, with many checking email and social media before they go to sleep and doing the same as soon as they wake up. Where we cast YouTube and Netflix to our TVs wirelessly and with little chance of slowness or buffering. Where paper-based party invitations are pretty much a thing of the past and get-togethers are arranged over social media.
What Have we Learned?
But where does all of this leave your average user today? What does it mean for small business people? There are many lessons that the story of the web can teach us, as well as reflection on where it places small businesses on the global platform today:
- The speeds and ways in which people use the web means that we now expect fast responses, especially online. Always respond as quickly as you are able. Social media timestamps each interaction, so delays on public posts are apparent for all to see. Facebook even states on pages run by companies and organisations how fast they respond to queries, so reply speed an important thing to track!
- Tech may change and online trends can come and go, but human psychology stays the same. Always remain courteous to people’s needs and respectful that their opinions may differ from yours. When people have a bad experience with a company, a lot of people take to social media to make their complaint public, so it pays to keep your cool and deal with any negative response civilly.
- Social media is absolutely everywhere, and if you aren’t using it in your business, now is the time! Research which platforms suit your industry and the different ways in which eat platform gets used. My advice? Many social platforms require you to be signed in to use them properly, so create personal accounts on all of the social media platforms that catch your eye and commit to using them. This way you can get a good idea of whether that platform is right for your business without setting up company accounts and leaving them empty.
- Our use of high end websites programmed by teams of boffins in Silicon Valley has heightened our expectations of how a website should look and feel. If your website looks old and tired, it can reflect badly on your company. It doesn’t have to be overly flashy, but if your website design and copy hasn’t been looked at in the past 5 years or more, it’s well worth considering an overhaul.
- The dot com bust was bad for a lot of companies, but many of the ones that did badly had either got swept up in the novelty of the new web platform, had grossly overestimated their skills, or suffered from poor planning.
- Always keep your feet on the ground and make your plans realistic and achievable.
When Tim Berners-Lee initially put forward his proposal for creating the technologies that went into the world wide web, his boss at CERN noted on the front page “Vague, but interesting.” But our Tim knew he was on to a good thing and convinced his boss to let him work on it. If this cool response had dissuaded him from pursuing it any further, who knows how we’d be using the internet today? Don’t get disheartened by negative feedback and stick to your convictions!
What is your favourite feature of the modern web? What particular part of modern technology boggles your mind to think about? Let’s have a natter down in the comments!