Founders Face the Future as the Web Turns 10

At the W3C's birthday bash, Web founders look back at its birth, and then mull the future: a Semantic Web that will greatly expand accessiblity.

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.

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