Beyond the Browser: The changing shape of the internet

Chris Anderson’s article The web is dead: long live the internet, in the August edition of Wired magazine, has attracted a lot of attention, including mine, but for many the title of the article would mean very little. For the past five years I have been running 1-day workshops on learning technologies for new l&d professionals, in which I include a team quiz. The opening question asks, “When was the World Wide Web officially launched?”, with options for the 70s, 80s or 90s. Perhaps one team in ten gets the answer right – the 1990s – because they know the internet goes back a long way and they believe the web and the internet are the same thing. As we know, they are not.

The World Wide Web is a system which allows documents formatted using Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) to be shared across the internet in the form of web pages, aggregated as web sites. Web pages are viewed using applications called web browsers (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, Safari, etc.). The web was the creation of Sir Tim Berners-Lee (pause for God save the Queen) when he was working at CERN in Geneva.

As the diagram in Wired shows, prior to the 1990s, the internet was primarily used for FTP (file transfer) plus a little email and for newsgroups. By 2000 the web had become the dominant internet application, but contrary to what many thought, this situation has not continued.

I began to think of all those ways which I use the internet which does not involve me opening a browser:

  • to store my notes in the cloud for sharing across devices (using Evernote)
  • to store files in the cloud for sharing across devices (using Dropbox)
  • to download music and apps (using iTunes)
  • to communicate in real time (using Skype, WebEx, etc.)
  • to prepare and publish my blog postings (LiveWriter)
  • to make my tweets (Twhirl and others)
  • to access news and other information on my iPhone and iPad (wide variety of apps)
  • to send and receive emails (Outlook and iPhone apps)
  • to automatically update operating systems and applications on all my devices

All of these offer major benefits in terms of convenience, usability and utility. They also offer enormous performance benefits when compared to web-based tools. They are not free and open in the spirit of the web, nor are they in many cases indexable by Google, Bing and others. Do I mind? No. The web is a vital tool for me, but it is the internet which is really making the difference.

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