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15 World-Widening Years

In 1991, the Web was just a gleam in a few people's eyes. Today it's driving communications, research, business, and life everywhere. How did we get here, and what's next?
Enter The Search Engine

Sorting, scanning, and scouring the Web via search engines such as Google seems like a no-brainer today. How else are we to find and explore the millions of content entries on the Web? In the Web's early days, though, the number of sites was so limited that there was minimal need for search. When you wanted to find information, you went straight to the source. And if you were just browsing, you went to the National Center for Supercomputing Application's "What's New" page, a simple listing of the new Web sites that were popping up on a daily basis, or "Jerry's Guide to the World Wide Web," which would later become Yahoo.

As the Web began to grow exponentially, both in the number of sites and the level of public interest, one thing became clear: Users desperately needed tools to quickly sort, categorize, and search the ever-growing volume of information.

Starting in 1994, a number of search engines were launched, including AltaVista, Excite, Infoseek, Inktomi, Lycos, WebCrawler, and, of course, Yahoo and Google. The rest is history: In terms of its relative importance to the growth of the Web, search is probably second only to the Web browser itself.

What's Next?

The advent of easy-to-use tools to enable self-expression through blogging, photo sharing, videos, and other content has sparked the next online growth area. The result: People are becoming not just consumers, but contributors, a notion that lies at the heart of the Web's newest movement: Web 2.0 (see story, The Skinny On Web 2.0).

One of the key factors in the Web 2.0 movement is technology. As Web developers master emerging tech such as Ajax, Web sites can implement an array of new features that increase users' access and capabilities, which in turn lets them create more original content for the Web.

So what's next? Web 3.0, of course, but what will that consist of? It's impossible to know for sure, but as users become busier, it's possible to envision some level of automated artificial intelligence routines that manage various aspects of our digital lives. Imagine a Web-based calendar application that intelligently arranges your schedule based on input from other people's calendars and without any input from you. The concept that a computer or network doesn't just provide access to data, but also makes sense of it in a meaningful way, is known as the Semantic Web.

Whatever Web 3.0 has in store, judging by the astonishing development of the last 15 years, we're going to go out on a limb here with a single prediction: There's no way anyone accurately can predict what shape the Web will take 15 years from now.

Continue to the sidebar:
The Skinny On Web 2.0