The Web at 20!

The most recent edition of EMC’s ON Magazine contained a whole series of articles and musings celebrating the Web at 20 years and imagining what the next 20 years will bring for it. The EMC Community of bloggers has taken this meme and shared a number of very cool stories and ideas. I’ve been tagged by Christine Christopherson, one of our very talented user experience designers, to contribute my story and ideas for the future of the Web. Like my fellow EMC’ers I’ll be addressing the following three questions:

How has the web changed your life?
How has the web changed business and society?
What will the web look like in 20 years?

How has the web changed my life?
I was a research assistant in the Physics Department at the University of Notre Dame during the summer of 1991 working with Prof. Carol Tanner’s team researching Optical Atom Traps. The lab I was working in was not too far away from the computer lab with the recently acquired NeXT workstations. These things were exceedingly cool as up to that point I’d only been exposed to Apple II’s in my rudimentary programming classes and rather clunky IBMs that my Dad got through work. There was a team at CERN that was doing very similar work to the ND team and they were publishing their notes and results to an internal system utilizing the CERN httpd server, which funnily enough ran very well on NeXT. At this point I’d never heard of Tim Berners-Lee or his grand vision, it was simply regarded as the next wave of Physics documentation management. I remember being a little dismissive of it at that point, mostly because I was just in love with lab notebooks and couldn’t see how a computer would be better than that.

I forgot about httpd for two years until I was a software engineering student at the Illinois Institute of Technology and got reacquainted with the very nascent Web. I discovered Yahoo and all this new content that was coming online and played around with the W3C httpd server more, learning about HTML and UNIX administration in the process. The Web changed my life because it was the gateway drug to Solaris and Irix I must be honest. I became a UNIX snob, thrilled by the power of the Sun Sparcs and SGI Indys running their server daemons and databases. The Web and the openness of its communication lured me away from the closed systems that I had been programming for, after seeing the power of the Web there was no way I was going to sit in a cube and code 1 function or class for some humongous software package for three years. I became a Web administrator at Chicago Kent College of Law supporting the Circuit Court and the paperless law school and from there I went into consulting for first the Web, then intranets, then Data Centers until finally I was running operations for MyPoints.com, one of the top 10 web properties in 1999 and 2000. I learned a lot along the way about connecting people and ideas and have been able to develop a much more expanded vision of the power and purpose of systems and I am very grateful.

How has the web changed business and society?
Let me count the ways, they are legion. The power of the web to bring people and information together is exactly what drew me to it. It’s changed the way that I do just about everything, from shopping and learning about new products to finding information, teaching my daughters, watching movies and TV and interacting with my friends and peers. I think it is great the way that many companies are expanding their use of the Web, engaging their customers, learning what they expect of the products and services, how they’re being used, how they could be improved and allowing customers to get together to share even more about themselves around a shared passion or interest facilitated by that company. The Web has even changed product design, more and more companies crowdsourcing their designs or creating contests via the Web to develop new products. Nike has done a great job of this allowing everyone to design their own custom shoes and hosting design competitions online. Awesome stuff. Web-enabled customer forums help people get answers, best practices, unvarnished opinions and new contacts all in one place. EMC has done a ton of work in this area and I’m proud of the communities we’ve built for our customers. Gina Minks blogs often about our communities and has done a ton of work setting them up and managing them.

What will the Web look like in 20 years?
Well there certainly has been a lot written about the future of the Web and Technology but I’ll add my 2 cents. I am very much in the school of Neal Stephenson and his views presented in Snow Crash and The Diamond Age. The Web will become more immersive and more pervasive, if that’s even possible. I’m not sure if Virtual Reality will really take hold, but there certainly is a lot of potential there. I think the biggest differences we’ll see is around search and the ability to federate searches and be able to more quickly integrate and analyze the results a la Wolphram|Alpha on steroids. We’ll also see a lot more integration of location aware and other context based integration into search and content presentation. I’m especially excited by the possibilities of more integration of open-source and crowd-source design like that at Local Motors and in the Makers by Cory Doctorow. I guess I’d sum it up by saying ubiquitous access, high bandwidth, context aware natural language search and analytics with data privacy and even more by the way of integration of social networks and academics etc. Needless to say I am excited to be a part of the continued transformation.

At this point I’d like to tag that font of information Christopher Kusek aka CXI and Kathrin Winkler who I hope will talk about the Web and sustainability in 20 years!

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The changing nature of Information Technology

I’ve been lucky enough to be in our industry for the last 17 or so years and I have seen all sorts of changes, as we all have. If I think back to my days as a research assistant at a university using the engineering lab Sparcs to create lab reports and pass emails back and forth with other researchers, I’d never have envisioned helping to design and run a system that would send out more than six million customized emails per hour less than ten years later.

In the early 90s IT departments, if you could call them that for most organizations, were necessary evils, a band of misfits who toted various cables and dongles and floppies around to who knew what ends. Today IT is at the heart of several large industries, the difference between successful, profitable businesses and those on the bubble. We’ve seen the industry evolve from sysadmins being a bunch of doctoral and master’s students to kids graduating from high school knowing how to program in a number of languages with a CCNA certification. When I try to imagine what the next 17 years will bring I’m mystified to be honest, the change has been rapid and amazing.

There are a lot of challenges facing us as we move forward as a profession. The interconnectedness of today’s market means that everyone wants access to everything, NOW. Cell phones are becoming viable compute platforms, they are fitting 32 cores on a chip and we have a pretty ubiquitous, fast fabric tying most of it together. At the same time there is more regulation now that pretty much the sum of recorded history to about five years ago. My colleague, Chuck Hollis, talks a lot about the need for a CFO of Information, I think he’s on the right track. But that new position requires tools for reporting and analysis that cut across the many silos that make up IT and the heterogeneous infrastructures supporting them.

No IT framework like ITIL or COBIT or MOF will act as a silver bullet, no off the shelf Resource Management system will give you all the insight you need, no new analyst acronym like GRC will encapsulate everything you need to worry about. A change in the way we design, implement and manage our infrastructure is required to ensure that IT continues to be a source of business value and not just a cost center, or worse the place were Information goes to become confused, lost and irrelevant.

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