What year was the World Wide Web born? Who invented the World Wide Web? When did the World Wide Web begin? These are the questions that many people are asking today – the “official” 20th birthday of the WWW. Happy Birthday World Wide Web.

It’s hard to believe that it is only 20 years since the research paper that designed the basics of the World Wide Web was submitted by Tim Berners-Lee. It was another 17 months following this invention before the first web site saw the light of day in August 1991. Since then we have seen dramatic progress, of course.

The web has gone from pages of text that could have interconnecting links, to online shopping, video, user-generated content, social networking and a host of other features which were not even envisaged 20 years ago. The web has been used for crime, prostitution, fraud and even child abuse – yet it still continues to attract more and more of us to lead much of our lives through it.

Now, there is a new use – unpredicted 20 years ago – “behavioural targeting”. In this, companies like Google will be able to monitor your every move and provide advertising that is specific to you and your apparent needs – as judged by a measure of your online behaviour. This is a use too far for the inventor of the Web and Sir Tim Berners-Lee is now lobbying widely to prevent such an invasion of privacy via the Web.

Things often don’t develop the way originators think they will go. After all, the inventors of the computer thought there would only ever be the need for one on each continent…! The inventors of Twitter probably never thought it would become a crisis management tool either. And Sir Tim Berners-Lee probably didn’t envisage much of what we can now obtain via the Web.

So, you have to wonder what will happen in the next 20 years? It seems certain that other senses will be added. At the moment the web is purely visual and auditory, but before long tactile features will arrive as will smell. The 3D web is already with us and will become much more commonplace before too long. And then, in the not too distant future, the linking of biological systems to computing will be improved, enabling a whole new set of ways of using the World Wide Web – like copying the entire contents of your brain to a web site…!

At the same time, today, 20 years from the foundation of the Web, still 25% of businesses have yet to even get a web site of any kind. They have a lot of catching up to do. With the pace of change with the World Wide Web, the almost daily development of ideas for Twitter and the likely addition of tactile senses within a year or two – unless your business is keeping up-to-date with these changes you are also going to get left behind.

The Web will change more dramatically in the next year than it has done in the past 20. You need to keep up, or your business will be in the “dark ages” of the Web – and that won’t do your bank balance any good.

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