From the birth of commercial Internet to what it is today, it hasn’t been so long of a journey. Evolution was hampered and slow in the beginning but today, change is happening rapidly and at a fast pace. The future we were once discussing is no longer a concept, but close to being a practical reality. Let’s take a look at the journey of the web, the advancements in technologies that enable it and the evolutions of the web itself into what it is today and what it will be in the future.
The Tech Side of Things
In this section, I chose to discuss changes and improvements in HTTP and HTML over the years and how these changes affected the Internet we use today.
One of the most widely adopted application protocols on the Internet, the HTTP was designed in the early 90s. The first version, the unofficially labeled 0.9 was a very simple prototype built by Tim Berners Lee. The telnet friendly protocol consisted of a single GET method line with the path of the document and no headers or metadata.
With the emergence and quick growth of consumer-oriented public internet infrastructure came the HTTP 1.0. Some of the key protocol changes from the prototype version were:
- The request may consist of multiple newlines separated header fields.
- The response object is prefixed with a response status line.
- Response object has its own set of newline separated header fields.
- The response object is not limited to hypertext.
- The connection between server and client is closed after every request.
With HTTP 1.0, not just hypertext but the response object could be of any type. However, the hypertext part of the name of the protocol stayed. Almost every web server today can and will function in HTTP 1.0.
The first official HTTP 1.1 standard was defined in 1997. It resolved a lot of protocol ambiguities found in earlier versions of the application protocol. It included optimizations that were performance critical, things like keepalive connections and transfer encodings. It allowed for an existing TCP to be used for multiple requests to the same host and deliver a much faster end user experience. To terminate the unending connection required the sending of an explicit close token to the server via the connection header.
In the first major update since 1999 came the 1.2. It contained stronger and improved support for hierarchies and also provided better support for text menu interfaces. The menu interfaces helped HTTP be better suited for mobile clients. Systems supporting HTTP 1.2 consist of hierarchical hyperlink-able menus, the choice and titles of which are controlled by the administrator of the server.
With the rise in devices and use of the Internet, HTTP 1.1 began to hamper performance and demands for an update increased that could decrease latency and keep up with the increasing needs. In 2015 therefore, came HTTP 2.0. It was standardized and supported by most major browsers by the end of the year. It made no changes to how existing applications work but provided new features to be taken advantage of for better speeds. It offers significant performance improvements and upgrades to speed.
More people started to get into HTML, it was gaining popularity and people were demanding new features. Thus, around this time, Netscape, the leading browser in the market introduced proprietary tags and attributes into their browser to appease the cries of HTML authors. Being proprietary meant that a page using these tags looked bad on another browser.
HTML 3.0 was developed therefore with far greater capabilities and features. However, it failed as a result of browsers not being slow at incorporating all the features and thus abandoned most. In 1994, the W3C standardized the language to enable its development in the right direction. This first standardized version was toned down to contain fewer features, making its adoption easier. It came to be known as the version 3.2 and is supported by almost all browsers today.
HTML 4.0 was developed and designed to include the features that had been dropped in the move to the 3.2 version from the failed 3.0. It contained support for HTML’s new supporting presentational language, CSS. HTML 4.0 became the official standard in 1998 and was incorporated quickly by Microsoft into their latest browser. After revisions and corrections in the documentation, the final version came to be known as 4.0.1.
HTML 5 is the current and latest version of HTML. It contains new elements, attributes, and behaviors, as well as a large set of technologies that allow for the building of diverse and powerful and websites and web applications, that are also mobile friendly. Some of the offered technologies of HTML 5 include:
- Semantics: allowing you to describe more precisely what your content is.
- Connectivity: allowing you to communicate with the server in new and innovative ways.
- Offline and storage: allowing web pages to store data on the client-side locally and operate offline more efficiently.
- Multimedia: making video and audio first-class citizens in the Open Web.
- 2D/3D graphics and effects: allowing a much more diverse range of presentation options.
- Performance and integration: providing greater speed optimization and better usage of computer hardware.
- Device access: allowing for the usage of various input and output devices.
- Styling: letting authors write more sophisticated themes
The Less Tech Side of Things
On the less technical side of things and looking at evolution from the user’s end, the Internet has done more than evolved to show images and load web pages faster. It is no longer what it was ten years ago, and it won’t be what it is today ten, or even five years from now as well.
Tim Berners Lee describes Web 1.0, the Internet before 1999, as the read-only version of the Internet. It was the version of the web that consisted entirely of web pages connected to each other through hyperlinks. The time, when there were only a lot of static dotcom websites that did not provide any form of interactive content. Web 1.0 was very different from the Internet that we’re used to today. The technology was developing back then; the Internet was in its first stage. There were millions of websites in which there was no active communication or information flow from the information reader to the information producer.
The 1.0 was lacking in user interaction and this led to the development of Web 2.0. It can be called the read-write era of the web as it enabled information flow from the user end as well. Web 2.0 emphasizes on user-generated content, usability even by non-experts, and interoperability, meaning that websites can work equally well across multiple devices and platforms. It is also called the social web as it empowered the common user with blogs, social media, and video streaming. Any user can not only interact with content but generate their own content as well. Thus, with web 2.0, users are more involved with the information that is available to them. Popular and widespread developments of Web 2.0 are Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, etc.
The web 3.0 is the newest version of the web that you might not be fully aware of as it not as noticeable a change as from the version 1.0 to the version 2.0. The web 3.0, also known as semantic web, combines semantic markup and web services to enable content to be readable by machines. It provides context to information and develops interactions between machines and databases. A machine will search from one database to the next as they will be sharing information on a certain topic rather than being connected. It is still in development and improving every day. The web 3.0 learns our habit and preferences to provide only the most relevant and useful information. It also involves the emergence of 3D virtual and inter-spatial internet. The use of wearable devices to access places virtually through the Internet and much more.
Although web 4.0 isn’t entirely here yet, it is no longer just a concept either. It will be the open, fully linked, and intelligent web, driven by the information collected through all the connected devices in our use. As a result, content will be more personalized and relevant than ever. An important part of web 4.0 is the Internet of Things. With your car, air conditioner, watch, mobile phone, work and home computer, and even the refrigerator connected and sharing information, the web will be more informed and more connected than ever for each individual. It will be like the always-on version of the Internet, tapped into our lives, learning, and responding. Constantly adding value to even the smallest of our tasks with relevant and useful information and services.