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Twenty-five years later, Web is still changing the world

Twenty five years! Wait, what? It’s been 25 years since the advent of the World Wide Web, when dub-dub-dub and URLs entered our vocabulary. Without hyperbole, it is astounding how much impact the Web is having on the wide world.

The Web has transformed so much of human endeavor. For many of us, each day is filled with satisfaction from our multiplicity of uses for the Web.

Today, it’s difficult to separate the Web from the Internet, the two have become so synonymous. For some, the Web is the Internet. For millions of folks, the Web browser, with its point-and-click simplicity, in conjunction with a search engine like Google, is the on-ramp to the Internet and perhaps, with the exception of e-mail, all they will ever need.March 26 guest opinion

To put Web adoption in perspective: Back in 1995, only 14 percent of U.S. adults had Internet access, according to the Pew Research Center’s first survey. Most of us up until then were using e-mail and other technologies like Gopher and WAIS to find information that others had published online. It took a good deal of geeky persistence to get your system set up, find a site and search it for what you wanted. Of course, it was text only and slower than molasses on dial-up connections, but it was better than nothing.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the developer of the Web’s underpinnings, combined existing technologies in a very clever way and gave it to the world, for free. He made it simple for us to find information, through the use of the www prefix appended to domain names. He embraced hyperlinking, and that made it easy to click on links and follow your nose for hours on end. And HTML (HyperText Markup Language) was so easy to use, virtually anyone could build a website and publish it for the world to see.

These advantages of making it simple to publish and find information led to an explosion of websites from new and existing organizations and individuals, and a cycle of more users begetting more content.

The Web has grown in scale and capabilities from those early days of hacking together a home page in a text editor. From the obnoxious blinking text grew typographical capabilities that enable the most sophisticated page layouts.

Interactivity led to e-commerce and transactional sites that substitute for customer service agents with whom we seem to be on hold forever.

And, it should be noted that no one company owns the Web or the underlying technology. Berners-Lee and the W3 Consortium provide fantastic stewardship of an incredibly valuable asset. Today, it is estimated that there are billions of Web pages on the Web, on almost 200 million active websites.

Now more than 80 percent of Americans use computers at work, home, school or elsewhere. And 60 percent of American adults use smartphones. Together, almost 90 percent of American adults use the Internet, a remarkable adoption rate for technological services.

What are all these folks doing? They are building stronger relationships with family and friends, or reaching millions of fans. While online communications is no substitute for face-to-face interactions, with friends and family scattered hither and yon, it’s a great way to stay connected. Even Facebook is just a giant website.

For the curious, the student, the so-called “knowledge worker,” the Web is a godsend. Is there a question that can’t be answered on the Web? I continue to be amazed at how generous individuals and organizations are about sharing their knowledge. Pessimistic about the state of the world? Consider the human endeavor of Wikipedia, arguably the Eighth Wonder of the World.

And, of course, we can apply, check availability, buy, complain and otherwise interact with organizations large and small through the Web. While we may regret the loss of human interaction, the convenience and typical efficiency of Web interactions suits our hectic lifestyles.

Where is the Web going? Numerous “next big things” are on the horizon. Access to “big data” — huge analytical projects — will advance human knowledge to the next level.

The “Internet of Things” will put intelligence (and likely a Web server) into virtually every device from light bulbs to appliances with the goal of having our homes more conveniently suit our needs and save us money. And the Web will continue to create opportunities in health care services, education, media distribution and government, bringing access, knowledge, convenience and communications to virtually everything it touches.

I can hardly wait to see what the next 25 years brings.

Rich Bader is the retired CEO and founder of Easy Street Online Services



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