The Internet At 30

It's 30 years since the first web page went live - here's a look backwards and forwards

It is nearly 30 years since the first web page went live in 1991. It was dedicated to information on the World Wide Web project and made by Tim Berners-Lee. In three short decades the Internet has reshaped our lives. Today we have both a physical and a virtual context for business and society. The next couple of decades will decide which one dominates.


We believe that we are a little over half way through the shift from analogue to digital. By 2040 we will largely complete the transition to all things digital and the world will look quite different. But, like all significant periods of change, it started out quite slowly.

It took over 20 years to go from ARPANET to the Internet. It took nearly two years from the first web page to the release of the source code for the world's first web browser and editor (30 April 1993). By the end of that year there were 623 websites including Bloomberg.com, ALIWEB (the first search engine), MTV, Wired.com, the Tech (first newspaper on the Web) and Global Network Navigator (an early Web directory).

By the end of 1994 there were 10,000 websites including Amnesty International, Art.Net, BBC Online, CitySites, the Economist, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Lycos, Microsoft, Senator Edward Kennedy, Sex.com, Telegraph, CMI (owned by Letts), the White House and Yahoo! The latter helped the Internet to become mainstream.

In the summer of 1995 Amazon.com launched an online bookstore. In the first two months of business, Amazon sold to all 50 US states and over 45 countries. E-commerce was born. Today e-commerce accounts for around 20 percent of retail sales worldwide. It was just 10 percent in 2017.

1995 also saw the launch of AOL and AltaVista. 1996 saw the birth of Salon, Slate, Hotmail and the New York Times online. Google and Beenz came in 1998. These were exciting times where anything seemed possible. Today they are.

The Internet has exploded and the digital world has become reality. Now there are nearly 1.2bn websites serving almost almost five billion people, encompassing 60 percent of the global population. Mobile has become the most important channel for internet access worldwide as mobile internet users account for 91 percent of total internet users. The iPhone was launched in 2007.

In 1996, Americans with Internet access spent fewer than 30 minutes a month surfing the Web. Today they spend more than 3 hours a day.

In 2020 YouTube generated over 5.3 billion monthly global visits via organic search traffic. Second-ranked Wikipedia accumulated less than half of that, claiming 2.2 billion monthly organic search visits. Social network Facebook rounded off the top properties with more than a billion organic search visits during the period. Today Google processes nearly 4bn searches per day.

Revenue in online games globally is projected to reach US$23bn this year and US$31bn by 2025. User penetration will be 14.6% in 2021 and is expected to hit 16.4% by 2025. Most revenue will be generated in China.

Coronavirus has accelerated many of these trends. Indeed music and film today is online. Even the laggards such as the hospitality and arts sectors are increasingly moving online and the food delivery industry has taken off.

Things we never imagined being bought online such as cars, furniture and homes are now part of our every day existence. No business can exist without a digital presence.

By 2040 we expect that the majority of retail sales will be online. All music and film will be enjoyed digitally, the latter in 3D, and the online gaming industry will be the largest entertainment sector by far. We will rent cars and homes online and we will only book travel digitally.

Mobile phones will check our health, while providing advanced video and photography, with endless zoom capability, perfect sound and 3D imagery. Wearable computing will come out of the lab, invading the remaining parts of our body.

Websites will build themselves, we will just need to add the content. Any kind of service (and all service providers) will be available at the click of a button, ready to fix your home, car, website, taxes and legal affairs. Most systems and devices will get fixed remotely - including your vehicles, computers and white goods.

The next Facebook will be about video hangouts and meeting spaces (beyond Clubhouse) and not about text and photos. Restaurants will do more business via online delivery than on-premise. Most simple health diagnostics will be conducted virtually. We will vote online and white collar workers will work at least one day a week remotely - most more than this. Meetings will be video.

Increased automation will mean that admin work, basic legal advice and accounting will be done by computers. Indeed, most lower level white collar jobs will get automated. Workers in factories, farms, warehouses and the military will increasingly get replaced by robots. Planes, trains and tanks will be driven remotely.

Schools, colleges and universities will deliver most of their teaching online. Exhibitions and conferences will be visited remotely. Workplaces will be meeting places. Holidays will be virtual reality headsets. AI will be everywhere.

The subscription and rental economy will thrive while micro-payments pervade. Digital currencies will expand as brick and mortar banks disappear. Computers will power trading across every sector and geography. Cyber security will rival climate change in terms of risk to global security. Big data will fix all manners of unsolved problems. Food will be artificial and man will begin to populate Mars.

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Governments will have figured out how to tax most kinds of Internet activity and digital surveillance will be rife. Digital conglomerates will become ever more powerful while media continues to suffer from short-termism and misinformation. Broadband will be a basic human right alongside shelter, education, healthcare and security.

How we develop and regulate the Internet today will shape it tomorrow. We have had the benefit of 30 years to understand it - we should be in a better position to enhance the good side while attempting to manage out the bad. Its future shape will be best understood by examining its history and its patterns.

The Internet continues to become ever more pervasive. It adds layers of interaction as technology, devices and bandwidth allow - initially text, then imagery, then photos, audio, video, gaming, communication, work, apps, and high-end design. Now AI, 3D, virtual reality and remote control. Tomorrow robotics, micro-payments, self-driving, self-creating, immersive, seamless and auto-functioning.

From 2040 the virtual world will become our primary world. The physical world will be one that we visit - mostly for leisure. This will not happen because of the ongoing development of technology alone, but also by necessity, as pollution, pandemics, power-storms and populism will increasingly keep us at home.


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