We've had 20 years of the web. What's next?

Two decades on, things are about to change

Looking to the future

It's 20 years since Sir Tim Berners-Lee wrote the proposal for the system that would become known as the World Wide Web. It's not such a definitive anniversary; after all, the web also has heritage in Berners-Lee's previous project ENQUIRE from 1980, and the proposal was finally published nearly two years on in late 1990.

He used a NeXT Computer to act as the world's first web server in that year and, in 1991, made the web publicly available. He could never have imagined the effect his "web of nodes" serving "hypertext documents" has had.

But, 20 years on, it also gives us the opportunity to ask 'what's next' for the web? Berners-Lee's idea for the WWW also contained ideas for the semantic web, an idea that continues to evolve to this day. The idea behind it is that computers will be able to understand the information on the web, enabling them to comprehend what we need to do.

So, much of the dull work we do in searching for and processing information from the web could be done without us, meaning we can simply enjoy the benefit of the information itself.

It's useful to remember just how the web has changed our lives. The Post Office recently surveyed 5- to 16-year-olds as a promotional act for its broadband service. 62 per cent of them claimed to have a social networking profile, and one in three identified the computer as the one item they could not live without.

Internet psychologist Graham Jones says that writing and reading skills are actually improving as an effect of the net. "It's all too easy to forget that the main way of interacting online is through typing. We have to write emails or entries into social networking sites. Even if you are on YouTube and want to make a comment you have to type it. Never before in history have we written as much as we do nowadays."

Tristan Nitot, President of Mozilla Europe, says that the real future of the web is still to be invented. "We need to make sure that the web is participatory and will include everyone."

Will everything continue to be free? Probably. "In our recent studies [of those aged 10-24], accessing the web is an important activity in their daily lives, especially when they indicate that they will not pay for content when they can get it for free on the web," says Gartner principal research analyst Fernando Elizalde.

It'll be on more devices

One thing's for sure, we'll increasingly use more varied devices to access the information available from the web. Dr. Guy Bunker, a Distinguished Engineer at Symantec, told us that the way we use the web will also change as the number of internet-connected devices explodes over the next 3-5 years: "The proliferation of internet-enabled PAN (personal area network) enabled devices will continue apace, they will synchronise and update in real time."

And, then there's the cloud, which many believe will be at the centre of everything. "Complex business processes will be delivered as a service by integrating different cloud services, offering new opportunities," believes Dr. Bunker.

Jimmy Ang, a Research Fellow at City University London's School of Informatics agrees. "I believe computers will be embedded into everyday objects and more situated within the social context of use." Ang also believes that the way we search will change, too, something many of the large firms are working on. "Searching will become more intuitive as we should be able to interact with the web with natural language. Also, translation tools will become more developed so we can communicate with people around the world with our mother tongues."