Founders Face the Future as the Web Turns 10

By Lisa Vaas  |  Posted 2004-12-01

Founders Face the Future as the Web Turns 10

BOSTON—In a star-studded event that featured Internet luminaries including Bob Metcalfe and Tim Berners-Lee, multitudes converged here Wednesday as the World Wide Web Consortium celebrated its 10-year birthday. The world converged, and the world wanted one thing: more, more, more.

The standards group is looking forward to the future, when well see the birth of the Semantic Web: a Web that will interact through eyes, ears and touch; and a Web that will be accessible to all, regardless of disability.

And how about dry cleaning pickup at convenience stores, suggested Teri Richman, senior vice president of public affairs and research at the National Association of Convenience Stores.

Or fingerprints on the back of cash cards to be used at gas pumps, along with biometric readers that would enable those prints to be compared with database records.

Or how about technology to communicate gas leaks in underground storage tanks, providing details about where a faulty gas pump is located, what part is needed and what manufacturer created the pump, and then sending an alarm message to a PDA or cell phone.

Dont we have those technologies already? We have much of it, Richman told following her presentation on the Internets impact on science and industry, and thats thanks to more than 10 years of the W3C churning out the standards and protocols that ground the World Wide Web: TCP, IP, HTML, XML, XHTML, SVG, SMIL, CSS, and the list goes on.

After all of that work—since 1990 when W3C director and WWW founding father Tim Berners-Lee began development for the first browser—the World Wide Web has transformed our lives.

Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project, presented some figures that underscored the idea:

Yesterday, Rainie said, 68 million Americans were using the Internet. Fifty-eight million were using e-mail. Thirty-eight million were using search engines. Thirty-five million people got news—not as many as those who got news from a print or broadcast source, but for broadband users, more got it online than not.

Forty-two million people did online banking. Seven and a half million people got health information online, which is three times the amount of people who went to a doctor.

Two-thirds of those people used the information to make a fairly significant medical decision: whether to see a doctor, what alternative forms of treatment were available or whether to seek a second opinion.

As the Web has matured over the past 10 years, Rainie said, it has changed to more closely match the demographics of the world at large. "More women came online. More minorities. More households with less income," he said.

"The Web became a much more mainstream thing. It wasnt just white guys anymore," Rainie said. "Peoples use of the Internet took on the cast thats familiar with anybody who studies media usage: Whites and blacks, religious and secular, male and female, they all use the Internet differently."

Just as the demographics of Web usage have changed, so too have peoples expectations. As people became more familiar with the Web, they began to trust it and to set high expectations that they could find the people, the health information or whatever else they wanted.

"The Internet was the norm in America" over the past 10 years, Rainie said. "If you werent online, you were part of the minority in America."

Some things havent changed, Rainie pointed out. E-mail is still the killer application. "The number of people using e-mail dwarves those using search sites, dating sites or what have you," he said.

Next Page: Where are all of the pajama-clad zombies?


-Clad Zombies"> One of the most gratifying, if surprising, aspects of life over the Web years has been the failure of Internet users to become socially isolated zombies in pajamas, Rainie said.

In fact, Internet users show "incredibly higher amounts of trust, hope and self-efficacy" than nonusers, he said. That only makes sense—why would someone need to communicate and get information if they didnt think it would help?

Figures map the social, gregarious nature of the 10-year-old Web community that now spans the globe. Eighty-four percent of users belong to some kind of community, Rainie said. "Its a joining tool. Americans are joining them because its easy to do online.

"Despite early warnings and concerns about people spending too much time online, … it [actually] helps people grow their social networks."

As people gain experience online, they become more serious in their Internet use, Rainie said. E-mail is the first attraction. Health information is big with women especially. As they get more serious, Internet users use the medium more for work, and to manage and spend their money. They discover health and financial information online.

Likewise, as peoples connections get better, their Internet usage changes. Broadband users are essentially different: They spend more time online, they do more things, they consume multimedia publications.

Most importantly, they create content. Fifty-seven percent of broadband users contribute content. "They love the two-way feature of this medium," Rainie said.

What else has the Internet done? Its created a vibrant civic life, with the recent U.S. election seeing an explosion in political campaigning, joining, Internet-arranged meet-ups, fund-raising and discussion generation.

It also has inverted relationships between doctors and patients, Rainie said, from doctors being perceived as demigods to being perceived as dispensers of information about clinical trials and treatments.

"Its the industrial model of medical treatment," Rainie said. "Patients are not patients anymore—theyre Net-savvy end-users."

Thats where its been, but where is the Internet going? Denis Lacroix, director of product development at Amadeus e-Travel, told following his presentation on the Internets impact on industry and science that his firm is looking forward to the standardization of security.

Amadeus e-Travel, which delivers online managed travel services to airlines, corporations, portals, travel management companies and travel suppliers, now has to rely on the lowest common denominator to secure its transactions.

For her part, Richman of the National Association of Convenience Stores is hungering for XForms, which will enable retail to define processes "we havent thought of yet," she said.

Richmans industry is also anxious for business processes that can save members from drowning in the ocean of data now being produced by RFID technologies.

The W3C is working on this and more, particularly in the area of the Semantic Web, a futuristic architecture where its as easy to share and link data as it is to share and link documents.

Click here for a column on how the Semantic Web could change the way we do things.

It is also looking at a multimodal Web that will "transform how we interact with applications," according to the W3Cs release on the Web of the future. That means a Web that will interact through eyes, ears and touch, in addition to our now-familiar mouse, keyboard and stylus.

The Web of the future will be mobile, accessible from a phone as from a desktop. That will entail work on enhancing Web site usability and single authoring for all mobile phones offering Web access. And finally, the future Web will be accessible to all, regardless of disability.

How could it be otherwise, Rainie said, when after 10 years, we have finally realized how essential the Internet is?

"We never knew how much we needed it," Rainie said.

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