The Web At 20: What It Means For Collaboration

Tedschadler by Ted Schadler

A wander through history today with apologies to those looking for punchy bullets.

The Web turns 20 today. Frickin' amazing if you ask me. My 10-year old wonders out loud what we all did before the Internet (by which he means the browser-based world of Club Penguin, Google, Yahoo!, and YouTube). And for the life of me, I can't remember, either.

How did we collaborate? Well, I remember that I wrote lots of letters to friends to stay in touch and was thrilled when someone wrote back (it was too expensive to make long-distance phone calls). My 7th grade buddies and I also wrote away to Pennzoil and STP to ask for stickers to put on our notebooks. I also spent a lot of time in the library (any library anywhere) and in book stores looking for books, magazines, research papers, whatever.

And for sharing information? Copies, copies, copies. I was an early and big fan of the mimeograph machine, stinky beast though it was. We used to sneak into the Physics office in college to get extra blanks in case we messed up when making copies for a seminar. And you had to get there early on seminar day to command a slot in the mimeograph line. (It was a blessed breakthrough when the Xerox machine was installed -- and only a dime a copy!)

And for creating, editing, co-authoring? It was typewriters, paper, and purple pens, folks. And pen and ink for graphics. Ugly stuff, but amazingly it worked. It took days or weeks do a turnaround, though.

Now, after a PC revolution and a Web transformation, it definitely feels like the olden days that my grandparents lived in. Today we blog, post, twitter, comment, Google, IM, Web conference, share screens, capture group chats, you know the drill. Turnarounds in minutes. Real presence. Global distribution. Shared authoring in real-time if you want.

But what about the next five years?

I don't think we have to look very far to find what lies ahead in the next five years because it's already here in nascent form. It's partner-friendly IM, VoIP, desktop and telepresence video conferencing, real-time co-authoring, Web-centric productivity and collab tools, much better search across company information and data, virtual world meeting spaces, unified conferencing, remote team members as connected to you as those one floor away, meeting-centric collaboration platforms, content-derived expertise identification, tag clouds at the heart of semantically-drive search, social graphs at the heart of expertise location, and of course all services available from a mobile Internet device.

So what about the next 10 years?

Certainly most if not all the things above. But also semantically-defined information workspaces that better reflect your past and present behavior, 3D interactions with information, credibly realistic versions of you in virtual meeting rooms, much better audio experiences that capture three dimensions in comfortable earphones, much more civilized online experiences that better reflect our culture and social norms, and many more "intelligent" information services that knit together disparate but dumb information sources in ways that meet my specific needs (this is my view of the semantic Web).

What do you see for collaboration and content on the Web in the next 10 years? Please comment.

paper and pen



re: The Web At 20: What It Means For Collaboration

In my opinion, the next big breakthrough will be finding a way to better connect all the disparate elements (inputs and outputs, feeds and resources).Right now, the primary middleware is the human brain. I read an article, think, "My buddy Frans would love to read this," then write an email to him with the link.Or I bookmark a post in, shorten the URL via, then post it to Twitter.In financial services, we used to talk about swivel-chair integration; today, it's alt-tab integration (between apps) and ctrl-tab integration (within Firefox tabs).

re: The Web At 20: What It Means For Collaboration

Ted,Great perspective on the future.Personally I really like the TED talk Kevin Kelly did about 1,5 yrs ago ( comes down to the fact that what we think the future will be is an extrapolation of what we have / know today ...Let's revisit this page agin in 5 or 10 years :-)

re: The Web At 20: What It Means For Collaboration

As Peter says, it's a great presentation from Kevin Kelly. Everybody should watch it.On the "replace human middleware" with some intelligence aggregator that Chris mentions, I agree. I just think it will happen through new services rather than through a fundamental rethinking of the way hypertext and links work.As an analogy, XML over HTTP (known as REST) is once again proving that simpler is better.Let the intelligence lie in the hands of some firm that can make money off it (or not depending on their world view and needs).

re: The Web At 20: What It Means For Collaboration

Well put, Ted. Did anyone really envision the extent that we would blog, twitter, comment, Google, IM, Web conference, share screens, and capture group chats 10 years ago?Ten years ago, I had a gigantic cell phone and was using a 56K dial-up that I had to share with another coworker, who listened to cassettes on her walkman. And so on.I agree that over the next five years we’ll see fine-tuning of social and collaboration applications to fit the individual’s (or company’s) needs. But considering the rate at which technology evolves today, I’d be hard pressed to predict how technology will be enhancing our lives 10 years from now.However, I think it’s safe to say this: There will be more information on the Web than ever, and in a multitude of forms. The need to organize, search, access, distribute, share, control, and automate it will continue to be the driving force of the next generation in knowledge management.I know I personally have witnessed an accelerated adoption of social knowledge networks across a multitude of organizations, and what’s really amazing is how quickly it takes off once in place. I think from here on out, it’s off the races.Mike Cassettari

re: The Web At 20: What It Means For Collaboration

I think for a part of the people it will become a part of their live. For others its just a moment. For marketing en profiling it is a great perspective on the future.

re: The Web At 20: What It Means For Collaboration

Great point on the viral nature of the Web, Mike. One of the things that separates the Web from other channels is that connection ubiquity.That click-to-* characteristic of the Web changes much about how ideas promulgate, how pricing works or doesn't work, how value is created, how experiments rapidly fail or succeed, and how quickly things can change.Social networking when tuned for a business pain is definitely an example of that. For the first time, it may actually be possible for a company to know what it actually knows . . .