Web Directions East: Future of the Web

by Luke Wroblewski July 26, 2012

At the Web Directions East conference in Tokyo Japan, John Allsopp outlined the future of the Web and why the browser is only part of it. Here are my notes from his talk.

  • Looking at a Web page from 1996 in Netscape 4 reveals not that much has changed. Both the capabilities of the browser and the design of Web pages are structured the same way they were 15 years ago. The same is true for search engines: they look the same as they did many years ago.
  • While we feel the Web has changed a lot, but it can be sobering to see how little has changed at the same time.
  • So what has changed? The speed of Javascript engines, GPUs and CPUs has dramatically increased. An increasing number of Web solutions use the cloud to read and write data at fast rates. We now have wireless networks that have dramatically increased the number of places we can use the Web. New devices (tablets, smartphones, etc.) and new users have grown significantly. Web developers have a new rich set of APIs (location, image/camera, etc.) to take advantage of in HTML5.
  • If all this has changed, why are we still building the same Web experiences we made in 1998? We still click or tap to interact with our devices: we look at a screen and then choose how to act.
  • As designers and users, we think about the screen first and what people will tap and click. The Web of today is screens plus clicks. That’s the model we consider first and foremost. We need to stop thinking this is the only way to use the Web.
  • Instead, we need to think in terms of passive interactions. Things that people don’t need to consciously think about in order to interact.
  • People generate information throughout their daily life as they interact with the World. We need to use this information to design experiences.

Prototypes of the Future

  • Some devices are available now that point toward the future.
  • Example: ninja blocks are a set of sensors that can be mix and matched to collect information from an environment and send it to the Web. Twine from supermechnicals is a similar project. These connected blocks can detect if someone entered a room or if a plant needs water.
  • The Belkin WeMo allows you to control anything you plug into an outlet remotely through the Web.
  • Mobile devices have yet to achieve their full potential. We’re just tapping what our mobiles can do. Providing access to our content on our mobiles is a good start but the future holds more opportunity.
  • Safecast allows people to record radiation levels with open source hardware and share it over the Web. Over a few days and little money, a network was built up in Japan to measure radiation across the country.
  • Digital connected scales measure and share personal fitness data for you. All you need to do is stand on them. No behavior change required. The scales use your everyday interactions to gather data and put it online.
  • The motoactv is an Android computer in the form of a watch. It tracks activity, blood pressure and more to help people stay on top of their health needs.
  • All these devices consider use of the Web everywhere. In our daily lives and out of the browser. Not that the browser isn’t important going forward but it is just one part of the Web of the future.
  • We need to use the technologies we have today to help us build solutions. When we think of the future we think of things that are different from today. But there’s a wealth of technology here now. It’s just a matter of bringing the ideas and technology we have together today.
  • The Web of the future will look like the ideas we’ve had for years but they’ll be a reality for us everyday. It’s an exciting time to be working on the Web.