What is the future of the Web?
Does it still make sense to use WWW as a synonym for Internet? Are the categories we used to define Internet from the 90s still in force? What is the role of the web in 2016 and what is its future? What are the dynamics that have changed our use of the network, from traditional domains, through social networks, up to the explosion of mobile apps, and the Internet of Everything?
In late 2004, however, things begin to change: during the Web 2.0 conference at O’Reilly Media, the Irish publisher Tim O’Reilly uses for the first time the term Web 2.0 (the entrepreneur and marketing expert Seth Godin later will call it “New Web”), indicating those new platforms that allow a high level of interaction between the network and the user. The blogs and Wikipedia are the first signals that the network communication is ceasing to be one-way only: web surfers are no longer limited to just consult but begin to interact with each other and become content creators.
The Social networking revolution entrenches this change: it does not affect the union between WWW and browsers but it marks a watershed, adding a disintermediation space for the use and creation of contents. Born as personal and minimal sharing places – almost a return to simplicity after the opulence of flash sites, the flop of Second Life and the first chaotic MySpace – Facebook before and Twitter later give birth to new exterminated virtual environments where people can interact and share the passions. This is actually the birth of a web within the Web, exactly as foreseen by Tim O’Reilly and Seth Godin.
The big brands soon seize the potential of this phenomenon and add to their “shop windows” (the websites) some conversational spaces on social networks: the barrier between customers and brands gets thinner and new mechanisms of interaction and “humanization” of brands are created. In the Internet it becomes increasingly difficult to lie or sell yourself for what-you-are-not and the brands begin to understand that if they want to remain convincing they need to come off their perch and truly start to communicate with customers. On the other hand, people want to share the brand values and live what Philip Kotler calls the “emotional affinity” that encourages them to become ambassadors of their favorite brand.
Social media become the new colonization ground for the brands and after the browser war in the late 2000s now is the turn of the social media war: every need or passion has its social media, from photographs (Instagram), through business (LinkedIn), to images over the network (Pinterest). A war that makes many victims and in which even a giant like Google is forced to succumb: its Google+ will never pose a threat to Facebook. Brin and Page are the masters of the web, but THE social network is Facebook and Facebook is the social network. Even Twitter start to feel the symptoms of a crisis that still has not resolved.
The emerging scenario after the first decade of the 2000s seems to be typical of a network “driven” by the major two intermediaries Google and Facebook: there is almost no action undertaken by Internet users that does not take place on these tracks. Web search and content sharing necessarily start from there. But the technological evolution is unpredictable and it fortunately always creates new ways to free those who ride it: mobile connections and apps undoubtedly are the last piece of the web revolution.
Suddenly, the network is no longer a land to be necessarily explored through a computer and a browser, a search engine or a social network, but it can be reached from mobiles – through small dedicated softwares – and even from objects. Isn’t it incredibly convenient to use an app for all our daily needs? News, information, timetables, entertainment, chat, sharing, video, GPS navigation: the supreme power of search engines and social networks weakens, the ability to develop applications is within everyone’s reach, Internet again gets a face-lift and comes straight to our pockets and our smart objects.
So, is there still room for the WWW? The answer is yes: not only because the World Wide Web is clearly not the same as 1996, not only because also the web sites are not the same (responsive web design, smart CMSs, WordPress, etc.) but also because a good content strategy can only be realized within a web site, with relevant and value contents, without being subjected to the algorithms of social media. So here we come back at the beginning of our journey: there’s no freedom in the Internet without the Web.
Internet and WWW are not synonyms anymore: the Internet travels everywhere, through many devices (computers, smartphones, connected objects, smart tvs, wearables), and reaches many “places“ (websites, mobile apps, social media, RSS feeds, messaging clients). A world of contents, to enjoy and share, comes from the barriers of the past and paves the way for change: the future of the network is a new disintermediation, with the power of choice back in the hands of the user.
After all, if we think for a moment, the future of the Internet can only be this: the openness, anyway, just as its inventor Tim Berners Lee wanted.
“He designed it. He loosed it on the world. and he more than anyone else has fought to keep it open, nonproprietary and free“.