The Past, Present, and Future of the Internet

When I first signed up for dial-up Inter­net access at home back in ear­ly 2000, hav­ing an online pres­ence meant hav­ing a per­son­al home­page. Whether through Geoc­i­ties, Tri­pod, Angelfire, or Lycos or through a paid host, peo­ple would set up web­sites with var­i­ous sta­t­ic pages… Arti­cles they’ve writ­ten, pho­to col­lec­tions, ((Man, oh, man were pic­tures online ugli­er back then.)) shout-outs, favorite links, and so on.

When I came across the con­cept of a weblog, I did­n’t think the idea would catch on. I don’t recall what it was that seemed so unap­peal­ing, but I dis­tinct­ly remem­ber being turned off to the idea.

I wish I would have seized the oppor­tu­ni­ty back then to start blog­ging. Maybe I’d under­stand it bet­ter today.

When wikis and social sites start­ed to pop­up, I felt the same way, and by and large, I missed the boat. For sev­en years, I’ve been in the Inter­net’s slow lane, par­tic­i­pat­ing in the “next big thing” long after that big thing has become the accept­ed norm. 

Over the past cou­ple of months, I’ve had my turn sig­nal on, and I’ve been mak­ing my way across the Inter­Tubez Free­way ((Is “Infor­ma­tion Super­high­way” ever used to describe the ‘Net any­more?)) into faster and faster lanes thanks large­ly in part to Chris Pear­son & DIYthemes.

Dai­ly I’m inter­act­ing with a grow­ing vari­ety of Web pub­lish­ers, ((Read: Those peo­ple who make the Web inter­est­ing, those with mod­ern-day home­pages who give the Web a per­son­al touch.)) and I’m see­ing first-hand the sorts of things peo­ple are expect­ing out of their Web­sites and those of others.

Through all of this, I’ve noticed there are main­ly three ways peo­ple are now build­ing their pres­ence on the Web. The first is via a blog, upon which is pub­lished every­thing from essays, links lists, com­ments, and so on. The sec­ond is via social net­works; for exam­ple, Face­book & MySpace both pro­vide mech­a­nisms for pub­lish­ing con­tent in var­i­ous forms. The third is through a wild mashup of some or many of the avail­able ser­vices; links are post­ed to Deli­cious, prod­uct reviews on Ama­zon, favorite con­tent to Stum­ble­Upon or Tum­blr, pic­tures on Flickr, essays on your own blog, and so on.

Each approach has its pros and cons.

If you’re cre­at­ing your online pres­ence by mak­ing use of exter­nal ser­vices, ((I.e., those such as Face­book, Flickr, Tum­blr, or LinkedIn which are owned by anoth­er par­ty and upon which you cre­ate an account, build a pro­file, and per­haps con­tribute con­tent.)) you have these advantages:

  • Ease: Adding con­tent is as sim­ple as fill­ing in a few pre­de­fined form fields, and let’s not for­get the biggest time saver of all: There’s no site to set­up & main­tain as it is all done for you.
  • Con­nec­tiv­i­ty: With oth­er users of the same ser­vice, con­nec­tiv­i­ty is usu­al­ly a mouse-click away. Con­nect­ing with users across ser­vices may be just as easy thanks to pow­er­ful APIs which may allow for all sorts of inter­sys­tem communication.

Then there is the oppo­site side of the coin:

  • Lack of Con­trol: What hap­pens to your con­tacts, com­ments, and (most impor­tant­ly) pic­tures if Flickr ever shuts down? What hap­pens to your notes, links, and friends if Face­book ever tanks? There is an inher­ent risk in trust­ing third par­ties with your infor­ma­tion and pub­lished materials.
  • Decen­tral­iza­tion: Some may view this as an advan­tage, but I don’t. Few ser­vices sup­port a broad range of pub­lish­ing and social­iz­ing. Flickr allows images and now videos plus com­ments there­upon. YouTube allows videos. Twit­ter allows microblog entries of 140 char­ac­ters or few­er. They all may excel at what they do, but to take advan­tage of these ser­vices serves to dilute your online pres­ence. If King­dom Geek did­n’t exist, where would some­one link to when ref­er­enc­ing me? Would it be my Face­book account? What about my Flickr feed? Twit­ter feed? Deli­cious links? LinkedIn pro­file? Rather than max­i­miz­ing a sin­gle pres­ence, time and effort are divid­ed across numer­ous media.

The dis­cern­ing read­er may have already deduced that the pros & cons of the “per­son­al home­page” approach to build­ing an online pres­ence are the oppo­site of those stat­ed above. Rock­ing your own Web­site grants you the con­trol and cen­tral­iza­tion lack­ing from mas­sive social media sites, though the site takes more effort to cre­ate and maintain.

Per­haps most notably, though, are the dif­fi­cul­ties regard­ing con­nec­tiv­i­ty or social­iza­tion inher­ent in rely­ing upon a per­son­al home­page (read: blog) as an online presence.

While I could post any­thing I want here — essays, pic­tures, videos, pod­casts, down­loads, and more — it is large­ly no more “social” than the home­pages of yore, with two notable excep­tions: Instead of a guest­book, vis­i­tors can now drop their thoughts onto indi­vid­ual posts, and sub­scrib­ing to get updates is eas­i­er thanks to var­i­ous imple­men­ta­tions of syn­di­ca­tion feeds.

The Tubes are def­i­nite­ly flow­ing in the right direc­tion, but if I choose to eschew rely­ing upon third par­ty ser­vices such as Face­book to pub­lish my con­tent, then that means one of two things if my friends want to stay up to date: They either must sub­scribe to my site via most like­ly a third par­ty ser­vice such as Google Read­er, or they must vis­it the site every so often to man­u­al­ly check for upgrades.

From a strict­ly usabil­i­ty stand­point, that still does­n’t seem ide­al. I think the Web could be much bet­ter. ((I came across the DiSo Project a while back, and what they envi­sion is very much what I’m talk­ing about here.)) Your blog becomes your social net­work­ing pro­file. Through blogrolls & Linkbacks, there is func­tion­al­i­ty anal­o­gous to “friends” and “tagged in note” func­tion­al­i­ty, respec­tive­ly, for example.

More than that, though, it would be unbe­liev­able were a mech­a­nism in place in Word­Press and every oth­er con­tent man­age­ment sys­tem which allowed basic, if not com­pre­hen­sive, social track­ing right through the back­end of your blog.

It is at that point that the tech­nol­o­gy is suf­fi­cient­ly beyond me to get me to shut up about it. Still, that seems a like­ly can­di­date for being the next big par­a­digm, if not the next big one after the next one.

And who­ev­er solves is able to answer the ques­tions nec­es­sary to make a sig­nif­i­cant por­tion of the Web a ginor­mous social net­work­ing is going to be set for life. I’m cer­tain­ly not say­ing that is me; it may be the DiSo Project or some­one inspired by them. It could be some­one who sim­ply has the right idea at the right time.

What I do know for cer­tain is that this time, I don’t want to be a few years late to the game, as I have con­sis­tent­ly been thus far. Con­nec­tiv­i­ty is becom­ing increas­ing­ly impor­tant in our online lives, and we as Web design­ers, Web­mas­ters, and Web pro­gram­mers need to embrace con­cepts which move us toward that ide­al as soon as pos­si­ble, for it seems these con­cepts are already long overdue.

Near­ly two years ago, I learned that the Inter­net isn’t an after­thought in Yah­we­h’s plan; quite the con­trary, as we grow near­er to Daniel’s Sev­en­ti­eth Week, the Holy One has giv­en Chris­tians a great tool to ful­fill the one thing which Scrip­ture says must be required before the Sec­ond Com­ing: the sal­va­tion of all the elect. ((2 Peter 3:9.)) I believe with all my heart that believ­ers who have Web access are bound by the Great Com­mis­sion to use it to the best of their abil­i­ties to not only evan­ge­lize but to live out King­dom prin­ci­ples online, just as they do offline.

A social Inter­net is the per­fect medi­um by which we can stand togeth­er and pro­claim that we are here and we will not be silent in the face of an increas­ing­ly apa­thet­ic, unbe­liev­ing world. Don’t hide the Light under a bas­ket while you’re online. Make known the wrath, mer­cy, grace, and love of God to a world des­per­ate­ly, if not igno­rant­ly, in need of the Truth.

The future of the Inter­net won’t solve the dif­fi­cul­ties inher­ent in evan­ge­lism, but what it will do is mul­ti­ply the mis­sions field for count­less Chris­tians into a medi­um which is much more easy to com­mu­ni­cate with­in for some: the medi­um of the writ­ten world.

In any event, being a part of DIYthemes has made me a part of the Web’s future. Chris’ vision is the one I’m glad to throw myself behind: take the world’s pre­mière blog­ging soft­ware Word­Press and build for it the world’s most user-friend­ly, most cus­tomiz­able, most wicked­ly awe­some design with which any­one from Web neo­phytes to Al “I invent­ed the Invent­ed” Gore ((Yes, I know he did­n’t “invent” the Inter­net. Please, no hate mail.)) can cre­ate a pro­fes­sion­al qual­i­ty site unique to them in rel­a­tive­ly lit­tle time.

The learn­ing curve to putting up a Web­site is low­er­ing every day; the Inter­net com­mu­ni­ty is grow­ing, and with a sol­id foun­da­tion of Word­Press, how soon until the “switch is flipped,” instant­ly inter­con­nect­ing blogs every­where, with­out the need for ris­ing & falling third parties?

More impor­tant­ly, what needs to be done to get us to that point, and what can add-on (themes, plu­g­ins…) authors do to help core soft­ware (Word­Press, Mov­able Type, and so on) read this new lev­el of socialization?

Or is all of this tru­ly a pipe ((Tubez?)) dream?


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7 responses to “The Past, Present, and Future of the Internet”

  1. Chris Messina Avatar

    I appre­ci­ate your sen­ti­ment here. Was curi­ous if you’d con­sid­ered adding OpenID or micro­for­mat sup­port either to your blog or to the DIY Themes? That’d be a super way to help sup­port the DiSo Project con­cepts — and prob­a­bly would­n’t take you more than a few minutes! ;)

  2. Rick Beckman Avatar

    Chris — An hon­or to have your com­ment here, dude!

    I’ll be the first to admit that many of the con­cepts — OpenID and sev­er­al of the micro­for­mats out there — are a bit ahead of me. I’ve only recent­ly begun to give seri­ous thought to the social Web, and even more recent­ly have those con­cepts begun to make sense on the blog-level.

    I’m def­i­nite­ly inter­est­ed in try­ing out OpenID here, and hope to get that under­way soon enough. A few micro­for­mat­ting fea­tures are already present in Thesis.

    As I test out the con­cepts and get them work­ing seam­less­ly with The­sis, I will def­i­nite­ly be pass­ing the code along to Chris to see what he thinks about imple­ment­ing it.

    Thanks again for the comment!

  3. Rick Beckman Avatar

    Alrighty, I got OpenID up & run­ning here pret­ty well, I think. Still learn­ing a lot about it, and I haven’t had a chance to use my new OpenID on any oth­er site. The plu­g­in from the DiSo Project evi­dent­ly func­tions as an OpenID provider as well, which is awesome.

    Gonna be check­ing out the oth­er plu­g­ins from DiSo when I get a chance.

  4. Chris Messina Avatar

    Glad to hear you’re giv­ing these plu­g­ins a go! Once you get famil­iar with the con­cepts and ben­e­fits, it kind of becomes a no-brain­er, and some­thing that can be frus­trat­ing when cer­tain ser­vices miss a huge oppor­tu­ni­ty to make the sign up and sign in process eas­i­er and faster.

    Feel free to join the DiSo Project and let us know what you think — and areas that you might be will­ing to con­tribute to!

  5. Chris Messina Avatar

    Heh. It’s basi­cal­ly an answer to OPML. Rather than putting your blog sub­scrip­tions into RDF/XML (which is what OPML is) you can do the same thing with an unordered HTML list. Using class=“xoxo” is a way of say­ing “this list con­tains data”, as opposed to a list of ran­dom things.

    XOXO is use­ful for blogrolls, for exam­ple, since it’s data relat­ed to your list of friends.

  6. Rick Beckman Avatar

    Chris Messi­na: I’ll def­i­nite­ly check out and see if I have any use­ful ideas… but can I ask you some­thing? What on earth is the point of the XOXO micro­for­mat? I’m not get­ting what it adds to the seman­tics of the HTML list tags… So far, the micro­for­mat con­cepts make plen­ty of sense to me, but XOXO not so much.

  7. Rick Beckman Avatar

    Ah, that makes more sense then. I have noticed that it’s out­put on Word­Press’ blogroll links.

    OPML is some­thing that’s come in handy for me before when need­ing to export my blogroll from one blog to a new one. I won­der how many Word­Press users know they can access their blogroll infor­ma­tion so very eas­i­ly.

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Rick Beckman