The Next 5000 Days of the Web

Last year Kevin Kelly gave a presentation about the next 5000 days of the web.  His views are based on what happened in the first 5000 days (roughly 13 1/2 years).  The profile for Kevin reveals a very thoughtful man.  He is in a good position to imagine what the future will bring.

Instead of talking about existing and emerging technologies, Kevin instead focuses on the more likely outcomes in the more distant future.  The point that stuck with me is that the impossible is going to be possible.  The same point of view could be expressed at the beginning of the web.  Many impossible things became common place.  And somehow, we take this for granted now.

He says “It’s amazing, and we are not amazed”.  How true.  It is only when there is a major shift that we take notice.  There is a counter point to his idea.  If we do not grow up with the technology as being new, we are more likely to be impressed.  This means older people (older than being born in the early to mid 80s) are far more likely to be impressed with the evolving web.  I admit that I am often amazed by what has happened in such a short period of time.  Perhaps if I was younger I would take it much more for granted.

He also says that originally the web was thought of as “being like TV but better”.  This model proved to be untrue.  It is clear now that we tend to shove new ideas under existing ideas to better understand them.  The web was not TV and except for the ability to playback shows, will never be the same as TV.

Kevin then states that the first lesson of the web is that we “have to get better in believing the impossible”.  This just means that things that were perceived as impossible in theory were actually possible in practice. 

This is just summarizing what Kevin says in the video.  I don’t want to give it all away but will focus on the topics that most interest me.

Kevin sees the web as a more organic mechanism that resembles the human brain in complexity.  He sees the web as a single machine which also happens to be the most interesting machine humans have ever created.  The parallels with the brain are reflected in current measurements of both the web and average brain.  Currently we are sitting at the equivalent level of one human brain based on connections and neurons.  Kevin projects that in 30 years we will reach the equivalent of 6 billion human brains on the web and therefore the web will surpass raw human computation (which assumes that only 6 billion people will be alive then).

The shift in his thinking is based largely on treating the entire web as one machine.  This is where cloud computing is heading along with the rest of the computer industry.  Isolation is becoming more and more rare as machines are becoming more linked together than ever.  Devices become windows into the machine.

There are three categories of change coming in the next 5000 days.

  1. Embodiment
  2. Restructuring
  3. Codependency

Embodiment means that we are going to incorporate more different types of devices to make the web even more diverse.  This includes things like mobile phones and other portable devices.  As things become more and more digital, the more likely it will participate with the web.  Many of the new models being put forward mix hardware in reality with virtual things in the web.  The web will also be seen as the owner of all the bits so that locally stored things will only be there for the sake of caching or offline use.

Restructuring comes with the concept of linking together data instead of just pages.  This calls for a much more intensive linking mechanism that would cross over many current boundaries.  There are some brief examples today of how this would be useful but the overall story has yet to be developed.  I would see this as an exploration in linking data together in a way that is much more natural and helpful to the users.  It would be of much more use currently in individual companies.  In a way, it addresses the need to search for relevant topics.  Links would already exist between similar ideas or objects and instead of searching, the points could be traversed.  It is a very different idea from how the web is deployed today.

Codependency comes from unloading the need to remember things.  The web will become our memory in a way.  When we need the information, we will just retrieve it when we need it.  This process is due to become more and more simpler.  The web will become further entrenched in our lives and we will become more dependant. 

The video is worth watching and is certainly much different than other talks given about the future of the web.  Even though several points could be challenged, it is not hard to see that the overall vision has merit.  Perhaps the overall message is that the machine is being built and will evolve based on our needs but we are not necessarily in full control of the overall path given its worldwide nature. 

Citrix, by comparison, is only about four years older than the web.  So many things have changed since 1989 and there are still so many things left to do.  At least it is much more clear what will happen based on our own experiences as a company.  It might be nice to conjure up a post about the future of Citrix based on its past.  That will have to wait for another time. 

Thanks Kala for the link to this video!


Live near Brisbane, Australia. Software developer currently focused on iOS and Android. Avid Google Local Guide

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Posted in Future, Ideas, Observations, Video
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