In the 1990s, the World Wide Web quickly rose from an obscure university research tool to an international and universal publishing medium. The masses were not just flocking to the Web in droves to read, view, and listen to content; they were creating it. As free hosting sites like Geocities and Anglefire gave individuals the ability to quickly and easily publish whatever they had to say for the world to see, it became clear that media and publishing would never be the same.
This was the digital revolution that many pioneers of computers and technology had envisioned. Anyone could make a website, and all types of people did. Naturally, commercial companies recognized the draw of the Internet and quickly capitalized. Major media corporations, commercial investors, and new dot-com businesses, born exclusively on the Web, gradually began to drown out the smaller sites with limited financial backing. Those who had money to finance commercial Internet marketing and search engine optimization became dominant.
The Internet, however, was about to change again, and the next change would be every bit as revolutionary as the first. While the initial advent of the Web made information accessible to the masses, it is social media that has made it participatory.
The new Web, referred to as Web 2.0 by some, produced dynamic content that could be easily updated and demanded the interaction and participation of the user. Blogs, social networking sites, video sharing sites, wikis, and other forms of social media have reshaped the Web and leveled the playing field. Once again, anyone can publish and easily disseminate information, with or without corporate financing.
According to dedicated hosting provider 34sp.com , in each revolutionary change of the Internet, the underlying technology has changed in order to keep up with the shift in philosophy. In fact, one could argue that the philosophy of the Web was always participatory, as its creator, Tim Berners-Lee, asserted that “…the idea of the Web as interaction between people is really what the Web is. That was what it was designed to be as a collaborative space where people can interact”
The technology of the first phase was primarily HTML-based. Many web sites were as simple as single-page documents with a few images scattered throughout the text. Updating a static site was challenging and leaving feedback on a site usually took the form of a guestbook or message board.
The next phase of the Web is now on the horizon. Devices that can access the Web are now diverse in both size and format. By the late 90s, nearly all web users accessed it using a desktop or laptop computer running Microsoft Windows and Internet Explorer, and most web content was catered to this norm.
In 2010, there is no standard web browser, no single access device, and no shortage of platforms accessing web content. Netbooks, iPhones, Android phones, Blackberrys, tablets, and computers running Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux are all viewing the Web through their diverse lenses. Because of this reality, the next phase in the growth of the Web must answer that need for open and accessible websites that can deliver rich, dynamic, and relevant content in a myriad of formats.
The underlying technology that will accompany this latest shift, from the desktop and cubicle Web to the open and mobile Web, will be HTML 5. At some point web developers recognized the limitations of HTML and began using proprietary add-ons like Adobe Flash to produce animations, stream videos, and sometimes even entire rich-content websites. As long as people accessed the Internet from their home computers, most accepted this.
As multimedia content continues to grow exponentially, however, organizations sponsored by Mozilla, Google, and Apple have been pushing for standard video and audio formats and the development of a new HTML that will integrate animation, dynamically updated content, and document formatting, lifting the reliance on third-party closed-sourceplugins.
The Web Future is HTML5
Social media will also continue to evolve with these technological changes. For a growing number of web users, social media is no longer a casual activity they use whenever they have time. Many now use it for business and personal communication on a daily, hourly, or even minute-by-minute basis. They expect connectivity at all times and all places.
The expectation for connectivity includes mass media and entertainment. Websites like Hulu.com and Netflix.com must live up to the expectations people now have to view any TV show or movie they want, when they want it. This is a fundamental ideological change from the traditional media model most major news and entertainment companies are accustomed to, and the technology must adapt to this change.
If not, another, perhaps less ideal facet of the new participatory Internet will take center stage: file sharing. As long as the Internet continues to exist people will have access to the media content they want. The only relevant question now is whether they will obtain it legally or illegally. The technology for implementing this change is developing rapidly, but it will be up to those who still maintain some control over content to embrace the change or be consumed by it.
Tavis J. Hampton is a librarian and writer with a decade of experience in information technology, web hosting, and Linux system administration. He currently works for LanternTorch.Net, which offers writing, editing, tech training, and information architecture services.