Happy 20th to the World Wide Web…next year we can celebrate in the US with an adult beverage

Happy birthday to the World Wide Web or as the United States’ most intellectual president once called it – the Internets. That would have been George W Bush. So the internet is 20, amazing that it was really not that long ago that we did not have all this information at our finger tips, and clearly would not be able to write this blog post or hyperlink to a Bushism.

I think it is safe to say that the web has revolutionized society in a similar way that electricity, running water and other utilities and technologies have done in the past. Similar to electricity, the world wide web itself is not what has been so game changing. It is all of the services and businesses that have been created by and have leveraged the inter-connectivity offered by the web. Being able to send 1s and 0s across twisted pair copper, or fiber optics, or wireless, or over coaxial cable, while incredible in its own right, is not the game changer. But being able to create the necessary infrastructure for the advent of Amazon, AOL, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, Salesforce.com, Linkedin and Twitter to name a few as well as changing how IBM, SAP, P&G, Luftansa, Carrefour, GE, Tata, etc do business, is what is truly revolutionary with the WWW.

The wonderful WWW

The wonderful WWW

So as we celebrate the webs 2oth birthday, here are my top 3 shifts created by the internet:

  • We are all connected…to everything, from anywhere at any time. Okay I am sure you might say, “d’uh.” But think for a moment the impact this connectivity has brought to our lives. Those of  you that are old enough to remember (I sound like a grandpa) recall a time when you would call someone via a home phone or send someone a letter. The yellow pages was our window into the world and that world was limited geographically. As consumers, we were confined to stores we could drive to or those that had mail order catalogs. In business we relied heavily on the postal system and “pushing paper.” I remember not long ago when I worked at Forrester Research, we would stuff envelopes with bounded reports to be physically mailed out to our clients…that was only in 1998.  A mail room in an office was a vital cog! Invoices and payments had to come via a physical check. I could continue to rattle off more examples. Think about how different our lives are today, because of this connectivity compared to pre-Internet.
  • Let them eat cake, we have and we like it, the power shift. Famous words, supposedly, uttered from an at the time about to be headless queen, but they echo what has happened with connectivity. The power and influence used to lie with those who owned the media, those channels that controlled the dissemination of information. Because we now have greater connectivity granted access has not created a whole new class of content creators, authors, musicians, artists, entrepreneurs and the like. More the reliance on the few to distribute has vastly been diminished. The fate of a musician does not hinge as much on the whims of a large record label or a fickle dj on the radio. An author does not have to grovel at the feet of publishers to have their story read. Companies, large and small, can fight for mind-share on a more equal footing. Consumers do not have to take the word of a car sales person or accept that a retailer is offering the best deal. Not only can more people access the cake, but we can now access how to make specific cakes, find the best ingredients and even sell our own cakes without relying on Betty Crocker.
  • Citius, Altius, Fortius, Faster – Higher – Stronger. Okay I am stealing from the Olympic motto. The rise of the World Wide Web has forced us to shift our thinking and actions. We have to be faster – whether it is distributing or accessing information. Things must be higher and stronger – exceed the next person to grab attention – be more bold. This has become a double edge sword. All one has to is look at recent events in Boston. The Boston Marathon bombings was a tragedy and act of unspeakable violence. The sensationalism that surrounded the event is an example of the rush to be first in a fully connected world. The gaffs made by the likes of CNN and the NY Post, while might have occurred pre-internet, were only magnified and in a way caused, by the accelerated pace associated with 24/7 connectivity. As a business, we must be hyper sensitive to speed at which news and information can get away from us. The notion of going “viral” is something we must be conscious of. As consumers we must be conscious of the rush to the finish line and as businesses we must be sensitive to the speed information can get away from our control.

Overall I am very bullish about the increased connectivity. As Friedman’s book clearly pointed out – the World is Flat. With the 20th birthday of the internet upon us, we can reflect on all the positive it has brought to our lives as well as the changes it has created. I look forward to seeing the next changes we will experience in the next 20 years of this wonderful technology.

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