This month our omnipresent friend fathered by Sir Tim Berners-Lee turned 25. The World Wide Web has been with us for a quarter of a century now and has irrefutably changed our lives.
It has turned us into information-holics, changing our working lives and how we spend our social time.
Here’s our list of the top 25 ways the Web has shaped the world we live in:
- Email: It’s changed communication forever and made the world a much smaller place. Business now relies on instantaneous contact and response, wherever you are in the world.
- Breaking news: Gone are the days when you relied on the broadsheets for the latest news. Online updates and social networks mean information moves so fast nowadays that Mark Twain was nearly right: if you don’t read the news, you’re uninformed; if you read the newspaper, you’re misinformed. Take the New York plane crash for example; onlooker Jim Hanrahan broke the news on Twitter in 2009, a whole 15 minutes before mainstream news outlets.
- Smartphones: The smartphone, made possible by the Internet, has made remote working possible. No longer are you confined to a desk, you can work on the move, allowing efficiency and productivity to soar. Some 72% of people have smartphones in the UK, which means 46 million phones performing a variety of tasks and connections that no one would have thought possible 10 years ago.
- Search engines: Platforms like Google and Yahoo! have provided us with access to a vast bank of information. Not only does this give people the ability to become experts in every field imaginable, it has also granted businesses a new way to promote themselves. Meanwhile, consumers have wrested some control back from business with the Web extending choice.
- Twitter: It’s made everyone’s voice count – frequently breaking news and opinions on subjects ranging from conflicts to entertainment and sport. It’s also a great way for companies to engage with their most valuable asset: customers.
- Online shopping: Commerce has greatly changed over the last 25 years thanks to the Internet. As a country we’re spending half a billion pounds a week with online retailers who can deliver straight to our homes, resulting in a huge shift in the importance of the high street. Retailers have had to alter their business models or risk going the same way as HMV and Blockbuster.
- On-demand TV: The average adult will spend 3 hours 41 minutes a day consuming digital media through computers, tablets and mobile phones in 2014, an increase of 34 minutes from the previous year, according to new estimates from eMarketer. This has revolutionised the advertising and marketing industries, helping advertisers target the right demographics. Netflix has revolutionised broadcast, allowing content such as House of Cards to be produced purely for online audiences.
- Big data: Without doubt the hottest tech trend at the moment. Data companies now know more about you than you probably do yourself, resulting in tailored content and advertising based on your preferences, hailing an end to spam and irrelevant advertising.
- LinkedIn: LinkedIn has changed business networking irrevocably. The first impression of someone is no longer made at your first meeting, as search engines and social networks allow you to research the person beforehand. Another initiative making the most of Web-based connections is recently launched ‘GetLunched’, a website aimed at connecting people in business during their lunch hour.
- Skype: Like email, video chat software such as Skype and FaceTime has opened up the world of business and lets you keep in touch with connections across the world – helping you to be in two places at once.
- Cloud-based services: Don’t fancy the rush-hour commute today, or staying in for the plumber? No problem. Just log in remotely and work via a host of cloud-based services.
- Facebook: It completely revolutionised how people and businesses interact online, as well as still being the most popular social media network. Despite its bad press recently, we mustn’t forget the impact Facebook has had over the last decade in revolutionising the way we connect.
- Local businesses: Your local travel agent, car dealership or estate agent will soon be on permanent vacation. According to eMarketer, in 2012 seven out of 10 travellers booked their own rooms and flights online. The automated nature of companies is becoming commonplace during the purchasing process because of the Internet, and although it’s unlikely to ever become completely agent free, the Web has made holiday bookings, second-hand car buying and viewing properties much more accessible.
- Recruitment: The way the business world recruits its staff has been revolutionised by the Internet. Job sites have enabled recruiters to target the right people with the right jobs, making the process of finding the right person easier. The CV has also been changed beyond recognition, with creative types displaying their work online and the use of infographics and videos to display previous experience all helping the job hunter stand out from the crowd.
- Pinterest: In 1911, Arthur Brisbane, editor of the New York Times, said: “Use a picture. It’s worth a thousand words.” His thought has never been more relevant than today. With the popularity of picture-sharing sites like Pinterest and Instagram, alongside YouTube, Vimeo and Vine, the Web has revolutionised the way we consume content, and made it a lot easier for a picture to be worth a thousand words.
- Getting lost and knowing where to be: There’s no excuse for being late any more, as the Web allows you to find that company or restaurant wherever you are. There’s now a plethora of Apps and GPS-based services available to us through our smartphones. Cloud-based calendars and connected diaries have revolutionised the disorganised employee and helped many of us meet business and social commitments.
- Wikipedia: With the birth of Wikipedia came the death of the encyclopaedia. Wikipedia is a great source for non-partisan content listing some 30 million articles in 287 languages, allowing everyone to research whatever they choose, making the world a much more informed place.
- Blogging: Forget Speakers’ Corner, platforms like WordPress and Tumblr have given the general public the ability to share their views on any number of subjects with whoever wants to read it.
- Tech start-ups: London is built on constantly evolving communities and Old Street’s Silicon Roundabout is the latest addition. It has provided entrepreneurs with the space and infrastructure to put new ideas to the test and helped the UK become one of the world leaders in an increasingly lucrative and expanding industry worldwide.
- Online magazines: While the Internet has been at least partly responsible for a number of magazine closures in the last decade especially, it has seen the birth of the online magazine, making quality content available for free, or at a smaller cost than print, wherever you are in the world.
- Online market places: Sites like Gumtree and Etsy have made everyone an entrepreneur.
- Vouchers: Groupon, Wowcher and Secret Escapes have put the consumer in control, allowing them to never have to pay full price, as well as providing brands with an innovative route to new customers.
- eBay: More so than any other platform, eBay makes even the smallest of businesses accessible to the general public, worldwide. Figures last year showed that eight million Britons run online businesses from home with the top 5% of sellers on eBay recording annual turnovers of more than £18,000 each.
- Crowdfunding: Finding new ideas, raising money, or improving awareness has become easier with Crowdfunding. In Kickstarter’s first year of business, more than £22.5m was pledged to projects in this country, with £17.1m going to successful self-starters.
- Digital health:The advent of the Internet has brought a new wave to the healthcare sector. From self-diagnosis on NHS Direct, to fitness applications such as Nike Fuel Band and monitoring systems linked directly to your GP, the Web has provided the industry with new ways to provide services to patients and relieve the pressure on an overstretched system.
25 years ago it would have been hard to believe that just a few clicks of a mouse would open up vast streams of content, not to mention untapped revenue stream opportunities across the world. While the world isn’t getting any smaller, our ability to scale it down into sizeable sections has become much greater and the Web has been an integral part of this.