Home The Future of Web Apps and Services, circa 2001

The Future of Web Apps and Services, circa 2001

I love reading old books about the Web and Internet. I’m in the middle of Stewart Brand’s classic book from the 80’s, The Media Lab, right now. Anyway I came across this 2001 web article from devx called The Future of Web Apps and Services, on the subject of Futurist Paul Saffo’s predictions for the Web. There’s no exact date on it, but I believe it’s from Dec 2001. OK, nearly 4 years ago doesn’t count as that historical. But given that this was before RSS was popularised and before Web 2.0 was coined, plus it was right in the middle of the dot com burnout, it’s an interesting read.

Saffo said this:

“Saffo sees the information evolution of the last 50 years as follows: In the 1950s, the emerging technology was television; the medium was broadcast. In the 1980s, the technology was time-sharing; the medium was e-mail. In the ’90s, the technology was (and is) client-server; the medium was (and is) the Web. At the dawn of the 21st century, Saffo sees the emerging technology as peer-to-peer, with the medium in the form of applications such as Napster, Morpheus, and Grokster.

“It won’t be long at all until Web services are simply automatic, done by machines – very little actually programmed by humans,” he said. “You set your Napster-like app, and it will find all the music and books you like. You’ll be able to let applications do your research for you. Just put your preferences in, and away you go.”

Two things struck me about those predictions:

1) his usage of the term ‘peer-to-peer’ and talking about the hip products of that time (Napster, Morpheus, and Grokster). This is very much like us in 2005 talking about Web 2.0 and Google, Flickr, delicious.

2) the automatic web services bit – automation of course has long been a dream/goal for computing and the Internet. But what Saffo described is happening right now with RSS feeds (for books and other retail data) and tools like PubSub (future search). His “Napster-like app” is our RSS Aggregator.

Another Saffo observation:

“In the future, we won’t be purchasing automobiles, we’ll be subscribing to them. Because cars are becoming more software-dependent each year, with pay-by-the-month geo-positioning systems, in-dash e-mail, “smart” information systems, and such, we won’t be buying a car so much as subscribing to services that will run the car for us. It’s like Microsoft; you don’t buy their software as much as you’re subscribing to all its successive versions.”

Ha, I’d never really thought as far ahead as subscribing to a car – but if you think about it, that’s the evolutionary path we’re on.

Sometimes it pays to look to the past to see how some things stay the same (peer-to-peer then, web 2.0 now), enlighten us about what we’ve achieved so far (automation with RSS) and remind us where we’re headed (subscribing to cars).

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