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Where the web is going

By 2008, we'll have city-wide wifi access and Google Maps will suck

It probably isn't funny how much of this turned out to be true, and how much of it turned out to be woefully curmudgeonly.

A collegue emailed me today to ask this question:

“Where do you envision the web going in the next 2-5 years?”

It’s not a new question, but for some reason I felt particulary in the mood to try and address it, and whipped up the following. I don’t pretend to assert that any of these ideas are uniquely my own; perhaps I will come back later and link each topic to an appropriate source.

For now, I’ve split my response into two segments: Where I see the web going as a medium, and where I see it going from a discipline (user experience architecture) perspective.

Where do you envision the web going in the next 2-5 years?

From a medium-perspective

Away.

In 2-5 years, the “web” as a medium for publishing, distributing, interacting and transacting will be nearly extinct – at least as any kind of seperate entity that we can refer to. Saying, “we do business on the web” will sound as antiquated and quaint as saying, “we power our business with e- LEC-tricity!” Frankly, it already does. “Visit our website” will be like saying, “send away for our color brochure!” It will seem ridiculous.

The web will be ubiquitous to the point of non-existence. It will be pervasive and persistent – every can of food, every paper bag, every slip of paper will be tagged and trackable/identifiable. Though my personal hope is that this traceability will be at the discretion of the posessors of these objects, there is certainly no assurance of that fact in the technology itself . 

It will be immediately accessible anywhere, anytime, by anyone. (Considering that Philadelphia is perhaps less than 12 months away from cheap city-wide wireless access for $10-$20/month for everyone, this isn’t a terribly prescient prediction.) Wi-Max or some similar technology will make access far-cheaper, at far higher speeds than any mobile highspeed access available anywhere now. With broadband (2Mbps+) access available on any mobile device, the possibilities for content and services change dramatically. Right now (though it isn’t terribly easy), I can download a map with directions from/to my mobile phone from Google Local. Slap in Google Earth, broadband speed, and 30 frame-per-second video on my mobile phone, and I can now receive a guided tour from street level between any two locations on earth.

Speaking of Google, I feel pretty secure in saying it will either be monsterously huge, or extinct. My impression is that they are at the beginning of a Microsoft- or WalMart like 20+ year ascent, but I suppose it’s possible that their increasing encroachment onto so many other business’s turf gets them smacked down or bought up harshly in the next couple of years to come.

From a discipline specific perspective

Harder to use, impossible to avoid.

The last 10 years of web development have not produced much gains in terms of usability – if you look at the “average” usability of all of the web sites out there. The explosion of products and services available online has produced an environment where people face an array of mostly difficult-to-use (and failed) websites, and a small selection of incredibly easy to use (and incredibly successful) ones. Web services will most assuredly make this situation worse – the fact that any developer can marry GoogleMaps with Flicker does not mean that there is a compelling reason to do so, nor that they will do it well.

As with any new technology, the average degree of usability will decrease in direct proportion to the ease with which the technology can be deployed. It’s (yet another) “long tail” scenario – a few web services will dominate the majority of people’s attention not because their services or offerings are unique, but because they are uniquely simply to use.

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