The concept of web design has now been evolving for more than three decades. March 12 marked the 32-year anniversary of the creation of the World Wide Web and the start of life for the internet as we know it. It wasn’t long after that date in 1989 that web browsers came on the scene and opened up opportunities for people to play around with countless different ways of displaying content on their sites.
If you’ve been on the internet for all or most of that time, you’ve seen web design grow and change, embracing and abandoning many different fads along the way. The anniversary gives ordinary people as well as professional web service providers a prime opportunity to think back on those trends and imagine how much different the internet (or its individual sites) might end up looking in the years and decades to come.
The Inventor Weighs In
One person who has apparently been indulging in that thought experiment is Tim Berners-Lee, the person credited as the inventor of the World Wide Web. Unsurprisingly, as someone with such a massive legacy, Berners-Lee hasn’t been thinking small with regard to this topic. And as someone whose contribution was all about the conceptual layout of a system and not about aesthetic questions of web design, his public comments have focused on questions of access and distribution of online resources.
Nevertheless, his comments are potentially food for thought among web design professionals, digital marketers, and individual site owners. They include speculation about the possible downfall of the tech giants who presently dominant almost every aspect of our online lives. Relatedly, they outline a more egalitarian future for the internet, with connectivity being provided to those one in three young people who presently have none.
If we piggyback off of Berners-Lee’s thinking, we can draw conclusions that are cynically ambitious or purely idealistic, or anything in between. Obviously, for digital marketers and web service providers, a dramatic expansion in access to the internet represents a dramatic expansion in one’s potential customer base. But for some site owners and participants in various collaborative online research projects, that same expansion represents information and human resources that could be turned toward the collective good.
We don’t think there’s anything wrong with giving a little thought to both of those outcomes and trying to imagine a future for the internet that is both profitable and beneficial for most of the people participating in its growth.
We Kind of Called It
Still, the question remains as to what the internet of the future will actually look like. And if Berners-Lee is right about an end to the overbearing presence of players like Google and Facebook, it might look very different indeed. In some ways, this would be a return to the internet as it was during the World Wide Web’s infancy. But in other ways – and surely in matters related to web design – there’s really no going back.
We can only hope we don’t sound conceited when we note that Berners-Lee’s predictions are somewhat reminiscent of observations we’ve made in various posts on this blog. We’ve demonstrated in advance that we agree with him when he says that the current corporate-dominated makeup of the internet seems inevitable and permanent, but actually isn’t immune to the pressures created by a shift in public attitudes or market preferences.
“I’m optimistic, because we’ve seen some dominant fads on the internet before … and then things change,” Berners-Lee said in an interview with Reuters. He also compared present circumstances to the situation as he remembered in it 1989, when there was “a feeling out there of restlessness, a feeling that we need to tip things over to change them.”
Of course, the inventor recognized that a lot of today’s desire to “tip things over” stems from growing backlash over the tech giant’s virtually unfettered access to user data, as well as the growing sense that that data is being misused. We’re still a long ways away from actually knocking over any particular Goliath, but with the change in public discourse, it seems safe to say that we’re winding up our collective sling in order to give it a try.
Meanwhile, it’s easy to imagine that there are people watching the current trends through the lens of web design and actively working on the platforms, websites, and outreach campaigns that could set the stage for a new approach to online interactions in general.
Opportunities and Challenges
A lot of those people probably don’t share the commitment to a new paradigm that is driving Berners-Lee’s own project, Solid, which supposedly aims to take back control of data from platforms like Facebook, and give it to users instead. Less ideologically-motivated web design experts are more likely to aspire toward the creation of the next Facebook. But that’s a valid goal, too. And it’s still one that could drastically change life on the internet.
Professionals in the fields of web design, digital marketing, and social media management will need to be on the lookout for new trends as they emerge, and they’ll have to be ready to adapt if they don’t want to end up as the modern equivalent of a web user maintaining a page on Geocities in 2005.
It’s still anybody’s guess what their adaptation will look like. It could involve adopting new platforms and systems while maintaining a presence on old ones, or it could involve shifting over to something new entirely. It could also mean going back to a long-ago system where individual sites, with their own unique web design, are once again more important than the collective platforms which lead people to them.
There are challenges presented by any such change, but there are also opportunities for digital marketers and web design professionals to showcase their skills in ways they might not have had to before. Similar challenges and opportunities exist for site owners and ecommerce entrepreneurs. Their long-term success on the World Wide Web may depend upon their willingness and ability to adapt, as well as their capacity for hiring the right web service providers to help them do so effectively.