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 premiere 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 thoughts on “The Past, Present, and Future of the Internet”

  1. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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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