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Can you believe that the world wide web is 25 years old? In celebration, Wayne Aspland looks at four ways in which the web has changed the world.


Way back on 12 March 1989, a CERN employee by the name of Tim Berners-Lee proposed a new way of managing information on CERN’s networks using an innovation called ‘hypertext’. Tim’s boss regarded his proposal as “vague, but exciting”… a response that must surely rank as one of history’s great understatements.


Because this short proposal would lead to the one of the most pervasive, life-changing inventions we’ve ever seen – the world wide web.

Now, if you happen to be maths-inclined, you might have noticed something significant about the date of this proposal.

That’s right. A little under a month ago, the world wide web turned 25. Doesn’t time fly when you’re having fun!

A lot’s happened over the last 25 years as the web has slowly(?) been woven into the fabric of our lives. In celebration, we thought it might be interesting to consider the good and bad of the last 25 years… four ways in which the web has changed the world.


Down, down, prices are down

The good: One of the most stunning impacts of digital media has been its ability to take a sledgehammer to prices. New business models, globalisation, competition, virtually costless delivery and a range of other factors have rendered anything that can be digitised (and many things that can’t) more accessible and less expensive than ever before.

You can buy music by the song, software by the month and shares by the trade. You can stream movies and drown in rivers of free news. You can buy consumer goods from anywhere in the world or compare quotes from every dealer in town.   

The bad: How could there be anything bad about this? Well, there is one thing. It’s the way incumbent businesses seem hell-bent on clinging to old business models and pricing regimes. It’s a short-sighted tactic that’s seen many long-standing organisations disappear. Sadly, there seems to be many more that seem doomed to follow.


New stuff

The good: It’s hard to imagine any time in human history that’s seen so much innovation. We’ve discovered new ways to search, buy, meet, talk, communicate, entertain, advertise, manage, record, learn and nurse. The innovations keep coming – day after day after day.

The bad: Sadly, for every great innovation, there also seems to be a great fad… particularly in the field of advertising and PR. Those with long memories will no doubt recall push marketing, personalisation, interstitial advertising, viral emails, Second Life and a host of other flops once bandied as “the future of advertising”. There’s nothing wrong with this, of course. Progress can't occur if we don't try new things. Equally, you can’t have innovation without failure – especially in a world so new. Where it all gets frustrating (and expensive for communicators) is when you have an entire industry focused on hyping the “next big thing”… over and over again.



The good: Want to be up to the second with the news, weather, sports results, share prices or anything else? No problem. Desperate to find out about that actor you just saw on TV (together with his filmography, place of birth and parents’ names)? Too easy. Keen to learn a bit more about social media? There’s almost 300,000 presentations tagged ‘social media’ on Slideshare. Thanks to the web, we now have information on tap and we've taken a giant leap towards what was once seen as impossible – perfect information available anytime, anywhere.

The bad: Unfortunately, this abundance of information has had an unintended side effect – laziness. We now live in a world of headlines and tweets. We’re more focused on who said it than what’s being said. And we value information that validates ‘what we reckon’ rather than information that leads us to deeper understanding. The result is that we’re rapidly losing the ability to analyse and think critically, which means our so-called perfect information ain’t so perfect anymore.


Come together

The good: The web has given the word community a whole new, global meaning. When you see the way people come together to help others through social media and crowdfunding networks; when you see what has been achieved by not-for-profit tech communities like WordPress and Wikipedia; and when you see companies and their customers building mutual benefit through co-creation; you can’t help be inspired by the web’s ability to bring us all closer together.

The bad: Unfortunately, all this togetherness is a two-edge sword – you've got to take the good with the bad. Which is why, as we all know, it's getting much harder these days to protect ourselves (and our children) from the bullies, scammers and thieves that inhabit the once dark – but now very open – corners of our society.


What do you think?

So there you have it. Our view on how the web has changed the world.

We’d love to hear your thoughts as well. Share your ideas with the IABC community using the comments box below.