The World Wide Web turned 30 this week!
In March 1989, Sir Tim Berners-Lee submitted a proposal to his boss at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) for a project to create an information management system he described as "a large hypertext database with typed links.” Up until that time the internet was simply a large network of computers that you didn’t really “surf”.
"Vague, but exciting…" was the simple, and somewhat understated, hand-written reaction scribbled on Berners-Lee's proposal by his boss.
Academia was collaborating across the network, but you had to type direct line code to access specific machines. With hypertext came web pages with links. Things became a lot easier to navigate, and in 1991 we were introduced to the first web page as we know it.
Today, we’ve built whole new realms on the internet. Social media has given rise to user generated content and allowed people to “connect” across wide distances. Giant e-commerce platforms coupled with mobile internet connections and powerful new search tools mean you don't need to leave your desk to shop.
Yet, all this convenience has come at a price. Ad-driven business models have created perverse incentives for media companies to try and hack our attention through behavioral engineering. Sadly, instead of helping people feel more connected, people actually now feel more isolated with the rise of polarizing online discussions, filter bubbles, and the disintegration of trust.
But, there is hope that the World Wide Web will deliver on its promise of connection and collaboration. Here are three ways I believe the technology is proving itself.
1. Video Conferencing
Our team at Excelerate America is dispersed across the country. We also deal with partners from all over the United States, some of whom we most likely will never meet in person. So how do you create trust and connection in this environment? Video.
When video phone calls using desk phones were first pitched I remember thinking how strange a concept it seemed. Nowadays we use Google Hangouts for everything. Even with less than 4k quality video, the visual queues enable a much richer and more personal interaction. Plus the ability to show people what you’re talking about makes it so much more interactive. Personally, it seems strange and a waste of time to have boring un-dynamic conference calls in this day and age.
2. Real Time Shared Documents in the Cloud
Moving along the collaboration continuum, it used to be enough to just have your documents always available from any computer. Then it was kind of cool that different people could access the same doc.
Now we use Google Docs for full on-the-fly collaboration, with multiple people simultaneously editing the same doc and even conversing as they do it.
Again, going back to emailing versions of Word docs or spreadsheets back and forth seems completely crazy and clunky even.
Furthermore, you can now control versions and manage access from the cloud making it easier than ever to bring many people into a project.
3. Instant Chat
I know, chat has been around forever going back to AOL messenger. What’s different now is the ability to craft groups and integrate documents, images and links. Our team also uses Google Hangouts which lets you turn a chat into a vid chat, but there are plenty of other viable options like #slack and Microsoft.
This mode of collaboration is infinitely better than the email ping-pong and confusing mile long threads. Increasingly, this type of written communication is replacing email for internal correspondence. Additionally, more and more tools are integrating with chat for use cases like customer service requests or welcoming web visitors.
Admittedly, chat is like text messages which can sometimes feel a bit nerve racking when you are trying to concentrate. However, the immediate synchronous style makes it so much more personal.
The internet moves fast and the first 30 years of the World Wide Web brought crazy changes to how we work and live. As we humans go about coping with the ever-changing digital world, look to the tools that we can use to enhance our connections and collaborative possibilities.
Roy Lamphier is Founder and CEO of Excelerate America, the fun, smart service for small businesses. Roy's passion for entrepreneurship, tech and helping small enterprises succeed are central to the Excelerate America ethos. If you'd like to share your thoughts on the World Wide Web, feel free to shoot him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.