This month, it’s been 33 years since Sir Tim Berners-Lee wrote the paper that would change all our lives and give rise to the web as we know it in 2022.
Although back in 1989 the internet already existed in the form of a global network of connected computers, the invention of the world wide web meant that people across the world could now use those connections to share documents and information in the form of websites.
Last year, we looked back in time to see which predictions about the web came true, which were eerily accurate, and who got it horribly wrong.
This year, I want to look ahead and think about the future development of the web.
Six key areas stand out:
- Inclusion - Universal web access and inclusion
- Remote vs Hybrid - Remote working and the office of the future
- Learning – education in the digital era
- Privacy – if data is the new gold, how can we protect it?
- The Internet of Things – the ‘real’ world goes digital
- Identity – how to prove who we are in the digital space
There are some things that seem broadly true – for example, well-designed, ethical AI and blockchain will feature heavily in the future of the web. But we also know that there are big unknowns in the future of technology. If you’d asked me 33 years ago, I might have predicted video streaming, but perhaps not the way social networks have entwined themselves into the most personal parts of our lives.
So, let’s look at how each area might develop in the years to come.
1. Universal web access and inclusion
Let’s start with digital inclusion and accessibility. One of the reasons the web was such a world-changing innovation was its potential inclusivity: it meant that devices with internet connections could now be widely used, getting people online en masse across the world. But what is the current state of digital inclusion in 2022? Can the web fulfil its potential to give all humans equal access to information? Will we all be able to engage with each other in the digital space? And can we close the digital divide?
This falls into two key areas.
1. Geographical accessibility
Does your village, city or country have fast internet access? You can’t access the web if you can’t get online. According to DEFRA, the average broadband speed in rural areas in England was 54 Mbit/s in 2020, compared with 81 Mbit/s in urban areas. Overseas, the issue is even more pronounced, and in some areas broadband infrastructure can be lacking entirely.
5G is expected to be widespread by 2025 and 6G is already under development, meaning connection speeds are likely to improve dramatically in the coming years, particularly in rural areas. But is by no means certain that this will be rolled out universally.
4. Privacy and protecting our data
Way back in 1999, science fiction writer David Gerrold made an eerily accurate prediction when he said, “Having all that connectivity is going to destroy what’s left of everyone’s privacy.”
He was right. Governments do struggle to legislate technology – it's hard to keep up – and privacy has been no exception. We’ve seen something of a data-harvesting free-for-all, from the big technology players and the likes of Cambridge Analytica.
It’s reached the point where even voracious data harvester Mark Zuckerberg recently wrote about his vision for the future of social networking, stating: “I believe a privacy-focused communications platform will become even more important than today’s open platforms.”
Governments are slowly but surely catching up, putting users back in control of their data and privacy, with legislation like GDPR and CCPA (soon to be CPRA). 2021 saw the biggest-ever penalties enforced for breaking GDPR rules; Amazon was handed an enormous 746 million Euro fine for its handling of personal data through cookies, almost 15 times the previous record.
As for the UK, there has been much discussion about how privacy and data protection laws will change post-Brexit. Currently, there are plans to overhaul the system and create a new, independent data regime.