What will the Internet be like in 2020?


After reading Nathan Weller’s Elegant Themes post on the future of web design, I felt inspired to take my own stab. I think there’s a general consensus among people who write this kind of post that doing so is a pretty ridiculous endeavor — things are changing so fast that nobody can really keep up. That said, I spend a LOT of time thinking about this and I do have some opinions. Worst case scenario, this post will end up being a funny time capsule :)

What will the Internet be like in 2020?

Some predictions are obvious because they’re just improvements on already existing technology. For example, I think the web will be blazing fast. Like.. pages will load as fast as you can change channels on your TV. There will be literally zero delay anywhere. I also think you’ll see a lot more video, animation and overall immersive experiences as these technologies become more accessible to the masses and bandwidth/delivery mechanisms improve. As far as privacy is concerned, everyone’s life will be VERY public, but only in the ways they want it to be. You’ll keep your entire life online, but it’ll be very secure and nobody will be able to access it unless you want them to. Also, we seem to have a lot of “human workarounds” for people who aren’t tech-savvy (think fax machines, “YouSendIt” for large files, emailing Word docs around the place). I think a lot of that will melt away as soon as people have had more time to be exposed to the technologies.

As for the more “out there” predictions

1. Visiting a web site will be a hyper-personalized experience

As I said above, your entire life will be stored online, so web pages you visit will be enabled to deliver a hyper personalized experience. If your favorite athlete is LeBron James, you’ll see him wearing the shoes you love when you visit Nike.com. If you’re a mom, you’ll see recommendations specific to your children when you visit Amazon.com. You may have one experience with a brand the first time you visit their site as a “potential customer” and a completely different experience once you’ve become a long-time customer. In order for all of this to work, you’ll need to release a lot of information about yourself, but you’ll be happy to offer it to brands you trust because it will translate in to a more pleasant experience for you. Machine learning and big data concepts will both play big roles in this shift as computers figure out how to serve you better.

2. Web sites will go beyond web pages and become instead web services

In 2020, you’ll still be able to access information in “page” format, but there will also be other, more useful ways to access data. Today you might find out what’s on the menu at a restaurant by visiting the restaurant’s website and looking at a page of information. In the future, you’ll just ask your phone “What’s on the menu at XYZ restaurant?” Your phone will interpret this as a command, then it will access the restaurant’s web service and return the desired information. You’ll also be able to “push” to these kinds of services — for example, “book me an appointment with XYZ salon for tomorrow at 3:00” or “Cancel my plane ticket to San Francisco next week.” Going to a page to read or manually enter information will be so “last decade.”

This shift to web services will open some really interesting “mash up” companies that will leverage this data in powerful ways. For example, when you arrive in a new city for the first time, you’ll be able to ask Google Glass “Where’s a restaurant that I would like that is near me and still open right now?” and the directions will appear in front of your eyes. This will be made possible in part by a “middle man” company that aggregates information from individual restaurants and provides them as a unique, value-add information service. I don’t want to get crazy, but I could even see individuals having an “API for your life” where OTHER people and brands can interact with YOUR services. For example, your doctor’s office negotiates with your calendar to figure out when you can come in for a check-up, or your dry cleaner adds “pick up your dry cleaning” to your to-do list for you. Again, you’ll allow this to happen when (1) you trust the brand and (2) the technology gets good enough that you don’t have worry about it breaking.

3. You won’t even know it’s there

Unlike today where you have to physically sit down at a computer or pull out your phone, the web of the future will be much more seamlessly integrated into your life. Smartwatches are a good example of this, but I think technology will get even less obtrusive. Amazon Echo promises to sit quietly in the corner until you need something, then provide you with a rich connection to the web using just your God-given ears and voice.

When you do have to use a computer, I think the information will be much more summarized, filtered, sorted, grouped and prioritized according to your liking. You won’t have to search through pages and pages of Google results, or look at an endless feed of Facebook garbage. All of your favorite stuff will rise right to the top.

4. We’ll all be part of a global ecosystem

As the Internet expands to the developing world and beyond, billions of people will join the web. As information becomes freely accessible to the entire world, you’ll see amazing new value being created at a global level. The downside is that you’ll have a lot of global competition and you’ll have to learn some new skills, but the up-side is that we’ll live in a world of hyper-specialized service providers who can provide amazing experiences that perfectly fit our needs and budgets.

As a part of this, I think you’ll see major diminishment in the necessity and control of governments. It won’t be uncommon at all to collaborate with people from all over the world who are experts in whatever you’re working on. Geographical boundaries and concepts will be a lot less meaningful.

Finally, I think sites like Facebook and Twitter, although huge now, will actually be in a bit of trouble as social media becomes a “peer to peer” technology that doesn’t rely on a centralized service. Just look at how cell phone companies used to be able to encourage you to “stay within their network,” but have now surrendered to the idea that everyone wants to be able to talk with everyone else without friction, regardless of the network they belong to.

5. Everyone will be a programmer

Programmers are constantly working themselves out of a job by building bigger and better tools to do their job for them. You already see services like Squarespace and WordPress that make building a website much more accessible to common folk, and there are companies like AppMachine popping up to do the same thing for other industries. On the surface, this feels like a threat to other programmers, but it reminds us that the real value in programming is designing solutions, not in writing literal lines of code. In other words, you’ll be able to build your own logic and workflows, and we’ll move on to solving more interesting problems :)

6. New and scary forms of evil and ugliness

With the good comes the bad of course. If we’re not careful, I could see the advances in the web leading to dangerous divides between the “haves” and the “have-nots,” resulting in resentment and possible violence. Abuses and abusers will “evolve and scale.” Human nature isn’t changing; there’s laziness, bullying, stalking, stupidity, pornography, dirty tricks, crime, and the offenders will have new capacity to make life miserable for others.

Those are just a few of my thoughts on “What will the Internet be like in 2020.” Am I wrong? Do you agree? I would truly love to hear your perspective in the comments below.