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?






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.

Join the Discussion

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Use your Gravatar-enabled email address while commenting to automatically enhance your comment with some of Gravatar's open profile data.

Comments must be made in accordance with the comment policy. This site uses Akismet to reduce spam; learn how your comment data is processed.

You may use Markdown to format your comments; additionally, these HTML tags and attributes may be used: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Rick Beckman