To mark the ‘silver jubilee’ of the Web, I’d like to draw attention to the huge contribution the Internet has made to society while calling for a global debate about how we develop the Web and improve digital skills to make sure it continues to create opportunities and enhance people’s lives over the next 25 years.
In a recent US survey, 76 percent of people believed the Web has been a positive force for society. This is encouraging and, given that we have really only scratched the surface with what the Web can do, the potential for it to further improve our daily lives is still considerable.
But we now need an agreed vision for the Web for the next decade – and on how we will address critical challenges such as security, capacity and capability. We must also do more to create the necessary digital skills to enable the Web to achieve its full potential. Currently, the UK is facing a well-documented shortage of these technological skills.
The wish-list for the Internet over the next few years includes:
- A wider range of content in a greater number of languages
- Trusted e-learning resources
- Greater inclusion of, and accessibility for, groups currently not engaged with the Internet such as large parts of the developing world, the older generation and those with visual and audio impairments
- Further innovation in Web technologies, for example language and format conversion
- New thinking about how we operate commercially in a digital world, with a broader choice of e-commerce and payment options
- Global governance and standards for data privacy and security, including techniques such as human factors and user-based design to improve user confidence and adoption.
The Internet has revolutionised business practices and created all sorts of new opportunities for communication and interaction – first with e-mail and more recently with social media. We can expect to see social media transcending individual platforms such as Facebook or Twitter to bring together contacts across all platforms in the ongoing bid to create Web technologies that allow people to communicate more widely, more easily and more often.
It won’t only be people who benefit from searching the Web for information. Computers will be able to analyse the Web to find data from a range of sources, linking data and identifying patterns. So in the future a faulty product or health scare could be addressed by machines scanning the web to find all available data to better prevent and prepare for future incidents.
Finally, improved usability depends on a Web infrastructure that allows us to connect to the Web on demand – any time, any place – without having to worry about how the connection is made. To overhaul the existing infrastructure to provide universal high-speed broadband coverage is prohibitively expensive. Instead, availability could be achieved by bringing together technical standards, embedding greater intelligence in the network architecture and introducing more proactive and innovative regulation to allow individual devices or appliances to find connectivity on demand.