When you think of the Web or the Internet as a whole, it can seem so modern—and in many ways it is. But we’re living through eras of history, whether you realize it or not. The Web of today is not the Web of the ‘90s. It’s not the Web of ten or even five years ago.

Websites as we know them today will not be around forever, but that’s a conversation for another day.

Today, let’s dive into some web education—where we’ve been, where we are, and what’s coming up ahead. The Industrial Revolution was a nearly two-hundred-year span that rocked the world. Now, we’re in the midst of the Information Revolution, where every single year has brought dramatic change. And we probably can’t even conceive of what’s next.

Eras of the Web

But first, ready to get internet nostalgic?

The shift from, first, having this technology to, second, existing with this technology to, third, the integration of this technology into our daily lives without a second thought has been so smooth that we practically haven’t noticed. It wasn’t so long ago that a “phone” was just a phone and a “computer” was an object on your desk. However, things have changed. A lot.

Let’s look back before we look forward.

Web 0.0 – The Development of the Web

The World Wide Web as we know it was invented in 1989 at CERN by Tim Berners-Lee, a British scientist who reimagined the user-side functionality of the early Internet.

Web 1.0 – The Read-Only Web

The World Wide Web was introduced to the public in 1990/1991. In those early public internet days, the World Wide Web was a place to seek and find things. Berners-Lee called this the “Read-Only Web,” and the label fits. The Web was not largely interactive at this time. Instead, it was a place where we were largely content consumers.

By 1999, there were approximately 3 million web sites (and yes, these were the days where “website”—single word—wasn’t yet the norm). And because of this massive amount of information online, the Read-Only Web brought about the explosion of “web browsers”—think Mosaic, Netscape Navigator, Opera, Internet Explorer—and, of course “search engines.” Hello, Yahoo, founded in 1995, and Google, founded in 1998, among many others.

Early shopping carts came to be during this era too. Amazon was founded in 1994, and eBay wasn’t far behind in 1995. But no matter what the information, it was simply that: knowledge and data to share.

Yet the Web was a continually evolving system, and, as the dotcom bubble burst, things began to change dramatically.

Web 2.0 – The Social (Read-Write) Web

Where Web 1.0 connected people with information, Web 2.0 connected people with people. Internet users became participants in the Web, interacting and bringing their own value, rather than just acting as content consumers.

In 1999, LiveJournal and Blogger launched as blogging platforms. The crowd-sourced encyclopedia Wikipedia launched in 2001. MySpace launched in 2003. Facebook launched in 2004. YouTube launched in 2005. The list of examples of this Web 2.0 shift is too long to name them all, but the short story of this era was that the Web was no longer just a collection of things to read. It was now a way to connect, and to connect in more ways than ever before.

Web 3.0 – The Semantic (Read-Write-Execute) Web

The shift from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0 was huge, but the shift from 2.0 to 3.0 is even more of a paradigm shift. With the rise of data, not only can people consume information and connect with each other, but applications can connect with other applications independently to execute functions on their own. “Big data” is a popular term for a reason.

The knowledge stored on the Web is now better connected than ever before, and this information has become enriched. The Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Augmented Reality, and Virtual Reality are no longer terms of the future. Web applications can interpret information for humans, creating efficiencies, analyses, and possibilities like never before.

However in the era of Web 3.0, while the applications can connect data and execute functions with that data, these applications cannot yet provide context to data, understand relevance, or make more complex decisions in regard to this data. So, we’ve come far, but we’ve still got a long way to go.

Web 4.0 – The Mobile Web?

The definitions of Web 1.0, 2.0, and 3.0 are fairly standardized; however, it’s when we move beyond this point, different sources suggest different divisions. For our purposes, we will define Web. 4.0 as the “Mobile Web,” and yes, one could argue that in many ways it is occurring simultaneously with Web 3.0.

Once the Web was a place where one might “surf,” sitting back and relaxing. This concept is the epitome of Web 1.0 or 2.0. However, now the Web is always in action. Chances are, it’s in your pocket or otherwise on your person. Today, there are more mobile connections than there are people. We are a mobile, connected society, and from smart watches to smart phones, the Mobile Web era is changing the dynamic of how we interact with the Web.

Web 5.0 – The Intelligent / Emotional (Symbiotic) Web

The rise of virtual assistants that predict your needs from your behaviors, without many cues, is a hint at the Intelligent Web to come. Web 5.0 will see applications able to interpret information on more complex levels, emotionally as well as logically. This is the Web that acts in true symbiosis with daily life, without a thought, organically intertwined with what we do.

Artificial Intelligence enables computers to communicate like a person, but the technology that enables them to think, reason, and respond on their own, in a human way, is not as far away as you might guess.

Web 5.0 will also focus on the individual, perhaps allowing a website to convey a different experience for each different person. It could perceive the emotions of an individual and respond appropriately, and it could detect subtleties that enable more powerful interactions.

Right now, Web 5.0 is a vision of the not-so-far-off future, but time will tell what this new technology will truly bring.

Okay, so you’re still digesting all of this…

Modern websites might employ features of Web 1.0, 2.0, 3.0, or beyond, and using these different tools from different eras does not make a site out-of-date. Knowing what’s been essential in the past is just as important as knowing what is essential in the present. Meanwhile, knowing the “www” preceding a web domain is a reference to this powerful network of information (the World Wide Web) is a fact we’re always surprised that more people don’t know.

The WayBackMachine might enable today’s web-surfers to see the history of the internet in action, but what about the future? What will the Web look like a year from now, or five, or ten?

Interested? Nervous? Fascinated? There’s absolutely room for all of this. As for us, we’re staying in the midst of it all, and we’ll keep you updated.

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