It may surprise you to learn that you could actually be older than the Internet. Yes, if you were born after 1989, the internet is actually younger than you…even if it does feel as though it’s been around forever. Food for thought, indeed.

The World Wide Web turned 33 this year – meaning it’s been just three decades since we first interrupted our mum on the phone. Remember waiting three minutes listening to that deafening dial tone so that you could chat with your mates on MSN messenger and download your favourite tunes on Napster? (if you were born post-Nineties, we suggest you look it up! They were good times)

Since its inception there have been plenty of rumours and speculation surrounding the future of the internet – and even some of the wildest, most out-there predictions have turned out to be spookily accurate. As Web 3.0 beds in (and rumours swirl around what Web 4.0 will bring) we take a look at the past, present and future of the World Wide Web, sharing some insights and tips to help future-proof your online presence.

Internet basics

To understand why the internet looks different today than it did thirty years ago (and what that means for your business), we need to cover some basics on what it does and how it works.

There are three widely accepted ‘versions’ of the internet – Web 1.0, Web 2.0 and Web 3.0, which is the latest version defined as being in play since 2020 and is still in development. This is a very complex topic, but to condense:

Web 1.0: Reading and getting information – the foundations for e-commerce, dominated by a dedicated infrastructure and desktop browsing.

Web 2.0: Reading, writing and creating – the birth of social platforms, networking and communications, cloud-driven computing, mobile-first.

Web 3.0: Reading, writing and ownership – creativity, loyalty and community – AI, decentralised data, smart apps, personalised experiences and content tailored to individuals.

You’ve likely experienced and lived through these changes on a personal and professional level, so it’s easy to see how this evolution has influenced wider society as well as consumer behaviour. Users define the web in terms of activity and functionality, so many of these changes have been directly driven by consumer demand.

The evolution of the world wide web

If you’re still reeling from the prospect of being older than the internet itself, you may also be shocked to learn that the web was never meant to be used as extensively as it is now.

This has posed some problems – as the creator of the internet Tim Berners-Lee has frequently referenced when interviewed about his opinions on the past – and future – of his creation. He himself never imagined that half of the things the internet is capable of today would come to fruition – indeed, without online interactivity much of the modern world would grind to a halt. Human dependency on the world wide web is kind of scary, if you allow yourself to go there for a moment…the foundational, core operational functionality of hospitals, transportation and navigational systems such as aviation, trains and ships and international communications are now all facilitated via internet-based systems. If the internet was to go down globally even for just a minute, chaos would ensue.

Think of the internet as a house that was originally built to house four people and last for ten years – thirty years on, the house is packed with millions of people and its fabric and foundations are creaking under the pressure – it needs constant improvement and work to stay optimally operational. It’s also a powerful tool that can be helpful or harmful depending on who is using it and what they’re using it for.

This is why the infrastructure that underpins online activity is constantly undergoing evolution and development. But some of the uses and functions of the internet we take for granted now were actually imagined long ago, either by Berners-Lee himself or spectators who found fear and excitement at the prospect of the digital age in equal measure…

Wild internet predictions from the 90s that came true

Back in the 90s the internet was of course in use, but much less widely than it is now (and with much more basic functions). People loved to speculate about what the internet would offer and how it would integrate into wider culture, coming up with seemingly unfathomable concepts, some that now feel normal, others that are still a little too crazy to have entered the realm of reality.

Here are some more of our favourite internet predictions from the 90s that actually turned out to be true (in one form or another)…

Cryptocurrency

This one’s still relatively new – so much so that most people still can’t get their heads around it. Put simply, cryptocurrency is a digital currency which can be used as a form of payment but is most commonly traded like stocks and shares, with more and more people cashing in on the potentially lucrative online trading platforms.

Initially it was very niche and ‘dark web’, but now Crypto is breaking into the mainstream, with an increasing number of online retailers beginning to accept Crypto payments.

In general the jury’s out on Crypto – for fans it’s a progressive, flexible and accessible form of buying and selling, but not without its drawbacks. In the future, virtual currency is likely to continue to dominate, with the price of foundational currencies like Bitcoin and Ether set to reach eye-watering heights whilst being joined by new currencies which could even overtake it in the future.

Electronic publishing

Many experts of the day concluded that electronic publishing would not take off. Newsweek’s Clifford Stoll made some pretty confident claims about the future of newspapers, magazines and books, making a number of statements. Nobody would want to read things on a screen, surely…? Now most newspapers and magazines have highly successful online platforms which are more abundantly populated without the constraints and overheads of print. New publications launch exclusively online, and some older institutions have even gone out of print in favour of an online platform (or disappeared completely, left behind as times have changed). On average we consume 2 million articles per day online, with thousands of eBook downloads per day. The average adult spends around half their day consuming media on the internet…that’s over 150 days per year.

Communications

In 1992, New York Times journo Peter H Lewis predicted that ‘executives on the go will begin carrying pocket-sized digital communicating devices.’ This of course came true but extended beyond the high-flyers of the mid-Nineties, becoming a reality for each and every one of us.

But now beyond having a mobile communications device in your pocket at all times, the internet itself has become a source of interactivity, first for messaging, but now for other forms of communication including voice and video calls.

In fact the internet now underpins most forms of communication, complimenting or completely replacing telephone and radio. There are now many (perhaps too many) ways to get in touch with people. Most people prefer to call or speak face to face via VOIP, Facebook and Instagram messaging, iMessage/FaceTime and Whatsapp as opposed to using a traditional landline or even radio calls via smartphone, which is also more costly.

Online shopping

Back in the early nineties it was difficult to imagine not going out to your local shop or retail park to buy something, or heading to the supermarket every week to do your food shop. Now it’s difficult to imagine being forced to go out to make a purchase when you have everything you need in the palm of your hand. Even the ‘convenience’ store is a trip too far… with apps like Getir and Deliveroo delivering sundries from your local off-licence to your door.

Clifford Stoll was wrong on this one, too, confidently stating:
‘We’re promised instant catalogue shopping–just point and click for great deals. We’ll order airline tickets over the network, make restaurant reservations and negotiate sales contracts.

Stores will become obsolete. So how come my local mall does more business in an afternoon than the entire Internet handles in a month?’

As of 2021, online sales overtook in-person transactions in certain sectors by 40% (ecommerce makes up around 30% of all retail sales). The biggest online retailer globally is Amazon, generating $178bn in revenue in 2017, offering next day and sometimes same day delivery on most items.

Looking to the past to predict the future

Unless you’re a psychic or mates with Marty McFly, it’s not so easy to predict what will happen years from now. But what we do know is things will continue to change as the natural evolution of the internet continues. We can get a pretty good idea of where technology and digital marketing is heading just by glancing back over the last decade or so, particularly the last few years.

Stay ahead of the curve

The digital space is constantly evolving – and with it, market trends and buying behaviours constantly change. Businesses need to stay current and continuously update their offering and online presence in order to remain relevant and retain consumer interest.

At Candy we are keeping up with the trends so you don’t have to. Don’t be left behind by your competitor – speak to us today and get ahead to ensure your business stays relevant and relatable, even as the internet evolves.