30 years of the website: five lessons for building the next 30 years
This is the final in a four-post series that honors the 30th anniversary of the website, as well as examines how we expect web infrastructure and user experiences to evolve in the next 30 years.
This year marks 30 years since Tim Berners-Lee launched the world’s first website. Throughout human history, new methods of communicating, recording, and sharing knowledge have spurred major technological revolutions. Just as the Gutenberg Bible transformed the way we could reproduce and spread information through movable type and printed words, the internet and HTTP kicked off another revolution that changed the way we disseminate information.
From its humble beginnings, we’ve continued to find new ways to use the web. It’s truly remarkable that a platform originally built for hyperlinking text documents has proven flexible and open enough to become the backbone of communication, entertainment, and commerce for so much of the world.
That evolution continues today as users demand more personalized, engaging, and secure web experiences. User expectations are changing as we speak, so we must evolve quickly to keep up. Just as we couldn’t anticipate the web’s progression in 1991, it’s hard to imagine what the web will look like in 2051. One thing’s for certain though, user expectations will continue to grow, probably at a faster pace than we’ve seen so far. The web’s infrastructure — and the applications we build on it — must evolve with those expectations, starting today. And getting ahead by having the foresight to envision what’s coming around the corner and steer your ship in that direction is what will set some companies apart from the rest.
Like we’ve written about previously, we must build the future of the web in a way that’s flexible enough to address the unknown while still ensuring secure, performant, and resilient user experiences — and that building starts today. To round out our series on the 30th anniversary of the web, we’ve compiled five lessons today’s builders can use to inform the next 30 years.
1. Prioritize scale from the beginning
Building with an eye toward the future means you’re building at scale from the very beginning. If you contemplate a world where everyone has access to the web, that means that any single app with any kind of success has the potential for millions or billions of downloads and users — all at once. If you don’t architect for that in the languages you choose, the systems you use, and the vendors you partner with, the experience won’t live up to expectations.
2. Build with flexibility in mind
We’re smart enough to know that we can’t imagine all of the web’s major future uses. So we need to build with that in mind and create frameworks that are flexible enough to adapt to the evolution of the web. HTTP is a great example. We’ve updated that protocol three major times, and we’ll probably need to do it 50 more. By the time we get to the fifth version, we might not even recognize it. Knowing that it will need to be updated in the future helps us understand how to build flexibility into it in the present.
3. Learn from mistakes — then build from them
Every time a breach happens or new tech takes a turn and is used in a malicious way, we all learn something. We learn how to secure better, we learn to ask better questions about the information applications collect (e.g., what will this app do with this image of my face once it shows me what I’ll look like when I’m old?) — and we learn how to build in a way that prevents those things from occurring in the future.
4. Stop inventing everything yourself
Don’t try to solve authentication, cryptography, or security yourself. Reusable frameworks should be demanded because they can be swapped out for better components as they become available in the future. Thinking modularly will pay off a thousandfold. Otherwise, you’ll be locked into an outdated aspect of your app or experience.
5. Don’t wait for regulation to lead
Typically, regulation tends to follow security concerns by about 10 years. First the innovators protect themselves and their customers, all the way down the line to the late adopters. And then regulation comes in, which means the issues we face today won’t be fully regulated for at least another decade. We can’t wait until security is mandated to properly secure the web and our apps. It’ll be too late.
The next 30 years
For the web to thrive another 30 years, builders the world over must take action, uniting to engineer a more secure and resilient web on a more trustworthy network, and more predictable and performant applications. Scalable, secure innovation is vital to the web’s ability to progress and succeed in the future — but we need to embrace new approaches to get there. It’s entirely possible, and it’s up to us.