Via Read/Write Web, I just came across an interesting survey of 5,000 Web developers which covered Web development topics and a few questions about the future of the Web in general. Since they neglected to solicit my opinion for the survey, I thought I would offer up my thoughts on the subject anyway But first, a few interesting stats from the survey that stuck out to me:
- Microsoft (cumulatively) now seems to be running a little behind PHP as the main development platform. However, it’s still by far the leading server platform.
- Only 26% of the respondents maintain a personal blog. I would have thought that in the target audience for this survey the percentage would have been much higher. The conversation and open airing of ideas that blogging brings is invaluable to me personally.
- To keep their skills sharp, 69% of respondents use books, 21% use conferences, and 34% use magazines. This surprised me because I use the Web pretty much exclusively for this purpose. I find that when I run into something that I’m not familiar with (or not familiar enough), I can usually get up to speed with a couple hours of focused Web surfing. I haven’t used the other methods at all for probably two or three years. The availability of instant knowledge is one of the most revolutionary things to happen in human history, in my opinion, I’m surprised that more people aren’t taking advantage of it. (On an interesting side note, I used to ace phone interviews this way when I would audition for programming gigs. Get a question I don’t know the answer to, ask for clarification to stall, and ten seconds later I would have the answer, courtesy of Google.)
- 47% of the respondents want more resources on AJAX. I think the confusion in terms between this and Dynamic HTML has caused a few people to fall behind the curve because they don’t realize they know AJAX when they really do. And, they want more resources? I don’t know how you could possibly want more resources than are out there already, perhaps what they’re really looking for is better organization of existing resources.
- Only 36% of respondents are using syndication in their Web projects. That makes me wonder if the other 64% are totally out of the loop or what’s going on with them. When 52% want to learn more about search engine optimization and only 36% are using syndication, you have to wonder if the knowledge curve is just severely lagging here.
But now for the really interesting question. What’s the next Big Thing on the Web? Some of the more entertaining answers:
- 3D visualization. Minority Report must be having the same effect on people that the Lawnmower Man did 10+ years ago. I don’t see this happening for another 10 years, if ever. Second Life bears watching, however–if they open source it, it could get interesting.
- Portable interfaces. This is actually a good idea, but I don’t think it works. Mobile devices will catch up to desktops’ capabilities before portable interfaces become a reality. WAP is a stopgap.
- Voice interactivity/navigation. I don’t think this will be baked into sites, however I do see Section 508 compliance and accessibility issues becoming more prominent over the next couple of years, which in a roundabout way makes this more of a reality since it enables site usage by audio browsers like JAWS.
- Fragrant Web sites using pheromone emitters. Are you kidding me? I shudder to think of the new types of spam this would create. Or viruses (The Skunk Virus Attacks!)
My Take On the Future
So what are my thoughts about the next big thing on the Web? Here’s what I think will happen over the next five years:
- AJAX technologies will continue to be refined and will become the de facto standard for rich Web interfaces.
- Push! That’s right, push technology will be making a comeback, but in a slightly different form. See my post about it for more details.
- The back-ends of Web applications will become much more interesting and connected. New architectures and programming models will emerge that will treat the Web as a giant combination database and object library. This will result in much more flexible and powerful Web applications than you know and love today.
- XMPP will become much more prominent than it is today as its uses extend far beyond instant messaging.
- The Internet will become the fabric of our lives. You think the Internet is prevalent now, just wait until Wi-Max really takes off and free high-speed Internet is available pretty much everywhere. Couple that with the downward trending cost of hardware ($100 laptops) and the ability of just about every phone to surf the Web, and you ain’t seen nothing yet.
- Mobile Web applications and mobile payments will become commonplace.
- The semantic Web will take off, but not in the way that most semantic Web purists hope. It won’t be based on RDF or FOAF, it’ll be based on standardized API’s and schemas.
- Search engines will become less relevant (I blogged about this a while back) and niche-targeted sites like Technorati and blog networks will become more relevant.
- Politics, politics, politics. The Internet is going mainstream in a big way, and it’s going to change the face of politics in our country. Eventually, conventional TV advertising is going to be irrelevant compared to the Internet. Talk about leveling the playing field, this is a golden opportunity for us to take back our country. The Web is going to change the rules in politics. I’ve even started a separate blog to cover this topic: www.politicaltechblog.com.
- Online identity will be a critical issue. This will need to be solved in a decisive manner so that other key technologies can be sorted out including:
- Personal payment and finance. You’ll eventually use your online identity to pay for most things.
- Identity verification. Eventually our online identity will be the definitive source of authentication and reputation, not our social security number which is out of our control and not meant to serve as that anyway. Criminal records, credit reports, job history, and just about everything else will eventually tie back to our online identity. Think of it as normalizing all the databases out there with you in them in one place, owned by you.
- Voting. If you don’t think voting will be done online at some point you’re not thinking far enough ahead. The current efforts at building secure voting machines are incredibly ill-conceived and downright scary when you consider that the discussions around them are taking place behind closed doors. This process needs to be brought out in the open before the American people and we need to come up with a solution that everyone is comfortable with before our political system collapses.
- Finally, I think social networks will become a critical piece of our online experience and everyday workflow, but not in the form they exist today. I’ve been running a whole series of posts on this recently which you can check out for more details.
So that’s it, my two cents on the next five years or so. Anyone else have any predictions to add to the party?