Since its humble beginnings, the Internet has changed dramatically. We have come from plain-text HTML websites without images to well-designed web presences full of multimedia content. Those who have seen it from the very beginning probably still can’t believe the change in the last twenty-some years.
Since then dozens of web design trends have come and gone and the look of websites changed over time together with the possibilities of modern technology. By now a lot of the functionality and design of websites is highly refined.
However, in the next few years, we will see technical advancements come to fruition that are currently still in their early stages. Technology that will change the Internet and how we use it drastically. Since WordPress now represents a large part of the web, the platform, too, will be affected by these changes.
In this article, we will take a look at the tech trends that will change the web and how they will do so. To put them into historical context, we will first have a short overview of key technologies and web design trends from the beginning of the Internet to today.
Ready? Then let’s get cracking.
A Short History of Important Web Trends and Technology
To understand the upcoming changes to the web, it’s important to look back at how the Internet started and how it has changed over time. Doing so will make the upcoming changes even more impressive. Plus, it’s fun!
- 1990 – HTML is born and the World Wide Web created.
- 1991 – The first website goes online. Sites are plain text and display in 16 colors.
- 1993 – Browsers gain the ability to display text and images together.
- 1994 – The Internet’s dark ages begin. Monitors learn to display 256 colors (of which many take too much advantage of), flashing ads and 3D buttons appear.
- 1996 – CSS and Flash are released, leading to a stronger separation of content and presentation. Websites become more interactive and better designed.
- 1997 – HTML 4.0 released.
- 1998 – Websites start to have several pages and thus menus and navigation. Google launches and CSS2 comes out.
- 2002 – Websites move toward readability and functionality. Flash animations and animated content see their debut.
- 2003 – The launch year of MySpace, Facebook and – drumroll – WordPress.
- 2004 – Release of Firefox 1.0.
- 2005 – YouTube launches. Google acquires it the following year. Video content is officially here to stay.
- 2006 – The beginning of skeumorphism, drop shadows and stock photography as staples of web design.
- 2007 – Launch of the first iPhone (including Mobile Safari) and the start of responsive design.
- 2008 – Google Chrome comes out as well as the first working draft of HTML5.
- 2011 – Release of CSS3. Websites get full-screen photo backgrounds, retro style, ribbons and grids without borders.
- 2012 – We see more long scrolling websites that tell stories, online magazines and the use of custom fonts.
- 2013 – Video backgrounds, mixed typography, static headers, and infinite scroll are keywords for this year.
- 2015 – We see the emergence of material design. Micro interactions become more important as well as minimalistic design, animations and card layouts.
- 2016 – Websites are increasingly equipped with chatbots and chat options, push notifications, vibrant color schemes and broken grid layouts.
For more information on the past of web design and technology, look at this fun infographic. Now let’s look to the future.
Future Technology That Will Change the Internet
Alright, now that we know that we have taken a look in the rear-view mirror, let’s switch our perspective. The technologies below will likely shape much of the development of the Internet from here on out.
The Internet of Things (IoT)
The World Wide Web and mobile devices have revolutionized our lives. These days, anyone can access basically any information they want at any time and place. We are as connected to the digital space as never before.
However, we have only scratched the surface of this development. The real merging of the physical and digital world is still to come. It’s called the Internet of Things.
We have already published an article on that topic this year. Basically, the Internet of Things means that everyday objects like household appliances, machine parts (like plane turbines) or wearable technology will be connected to the Internet.
That way, they will be able to send information (for example, information about when the plane turbine needs maintenance) and also be remotely accessible and controllable (which doesn’t sound too safe for something keeping a plane in the air).
What’s more, devices will learn to talk to each other and exchange information. That way, your trash could, for example, notice that you threw away a milk carton and then put milk on the shopping list on your smartphone. And no, I’m not joking.
The Internet of Things is a huge emerging market, potentially worth trillions of dollars. Estimates say that as early as 2022 there will be 30 billion such devices in existence.
What are the consequences for the Internet? First of all, infinitely more connections, the ability to connect web applications and websites to real-life objects (which is already possible with WordPress) and huge amounts of new data that companies and websites will use to learn more about their users.
Also, the Internet will be literally everywhere and you will interact with it a lot more in the real world. The biggest drawback at the moment: missing security standards. Let’s hope manufacturers figure that out before making everything around us remotely controllable.
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
We have been talking a lot about artificial intelligence lately. There is no doubt that it will change not only the Internet but the world at large. This is especially true in combination with other technology on this list.
Basically, the next generation of AI will be able to collect, process and understand an enormous amount of data. The result will be new levels of automation and personalization. Here’s what that will look like on the Internet:
- Voice recognition — As machines get better at recognizing human speech, we will provide less input via keyboard and more with our own voice. We can already see this with virtual assistants like Alexa and Siri. Voice search is another possible application. Generally, expect to talk more to websites.
- Image and video recognition — Besides speech, machines are also getting better at understanding images and videos. You have probably already noticed that Facebook can recognize your friends in your uploaded pictures. Of course, this will have consequences for SEO, especially for images.
- Virtual customer service — Machine-powered customer service is already a reality thanks to chatbots. However, in the future, it will get a lot more capable. You will be able to talk to bots like people and they will understand you. Plus, thanks to image recognition, virtual assistants will be able to give you tips on what products to buy according to photos you provide.
- Personalized content and design — AI software can go through a lot of data to learn more about you. Websites and online services will use this to further cater to your needs (and make themselves more attractive in the process). Expect sites that adapt to the person visiting them in terms of content and design.
- Mixing of online and offline world — Just like the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence will bring the online and offline world closer together. For example, thanks to facial recognition, your favorite retailer may send you offers that match your online behavior when you enter one of their shop. Is that a dream come true or a nightmare? You decide.
- Machine-created content — Online content written by algorithms is already a reality. Yet, so far it is limited to mostly data-heavy content types and needs to be templated. However, as machines advance in understanding language, their ability to author (or curate) high-quality content will continue to grow.
- AI-enhanced marketing — Finally, get ready for AI algorithms that sniff out underused marketing channels, automatically create ads, buy ad space, personalize emails and do SEO almost in real time.
We already have WordPress plugins that use artificial intelligence today. Consequently, you can be sure that this technology will find its way into the WordPress platform.
Augmented, Mixed, and Virtual Reality
The above are all names for different types of digitally enhanced reality. The first means overlaying digital information over a live video view of the world. Think Google Glass, Pokemon Go, or Snapchat filters.
Mixed reality goes a step further. Here, virtual objects are integrated into the physical world via immersive technology (meaning VR headsets) so that users can interact with them. For example, imagine seeing your character from the video game The Sims in your living room and interacting with them.
Virtual reality then is entering an environment that is entirely digitally created (though VR is also used as an umbrella term for all of these technologies). With virtual reality, you can, for example, become part of a video game yourself. Science fiction movies have been promising that to us for years!
There are several big players in this space. Besides the aforementioned Google Glass and Google Cardboard, you also have Facebook’s Oculus and Microsoft’s Mixed Reality. We also already have working examples of VR in the real world, such as this enhanced rollercoaster ride:
How will this technology change the Internet? First of all, it will further change the way we communicate. For example, you will be able to have virtual meetings with colleagues from across the world in any environment you want.
However, one of the more important use cases is allowing you to test products in your home. IKEA already has technology that allows you put virtual furniture in your house via tablet or phone to see what it looks like.
The other way around, you might also soon be able to look at products via VR without the need to go to a shop or take tours of apartments you consider renting.
Enhanced reality will also come to WordPress sites. At the end of last year, WordPress.com added the ability to post VR content on the platform. For self-hosted websites, we also already have the first plugins for VR.
Are You Ready for the Change?
The digital space has come a long way from its plain-text beginnings. By now it is an interactive space with stunning design and multimedia content. However, we are about to see another technical revolution.
Above we have talked about three key technologies that will change the Internet greatly. Since WordPress is a large part of that environment, it will also be affected.
Overall we can expect a stronger enmeshment of the physical and digital world with the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence and virtual reality. All three are set to tear down the border and blur the lines between what is real and what is computer generated.
Aside from that, neither of these technologies exists in a vacuum. We will likely see a lot of synergies between them. While there are many predictions about what the end result will look like, we will probably only fully grasp it when we experience it.
What’s your opinion on the upcoming technological change? What are you excited about? What are your concerns? Let us know in the comments section below!