Tedschadler by Ted Schadler

A wander through history today with apologies to those looking for punchy bullets.

The Web turns 20 today. Frickin' amazing if you ask me. My 10-year old wonders out loud what we all did before the Internet (by which he means the browser-based world of Club Penguin, Google, Yahoo!, and YouTube). And for the life of me, I can't remember, either.

How did we collaborate? Well, I remember that I wrote lots of letters to friends to stay in touch and was thrilled when someone wrote back (it was too expensive to make long-distance phone calls). My 7th grade buddies and I also wrote away to Pennzoil and STP to ask for stickers to put on our notebooks. I also spent a lot of time in the library (any library anywhere) and in book stores looking for books, magazines, research papers, whatever.

And for sharing information? Copies, copies, copies. I was an early and big fan of the mimeograph machine, stinky beast though it was. We used to sneak into the Physics office in college to get extra blanks in case we messed up when making copies for a seminar. And you had to get there early on seminar day to command a slot in the mimeograph line. (It was a blessed breakthrough when the Xerox machine was installed — and only a dime a copy!)

And for creating, editing, co-authoring? It was typewriters, paper, and purple pens, folks. And pen and ink for graphics. Ugly stuff, but amazingly it worked. It took days or weeks do a turnaround, though.

Now, after a PC revolution and a Web transformation, it definitely feels like the olden days that my grandparents lived in. Today we blog, post, twitter, comment, Google, IM, Web conference, share screens, capture group chats, you know the drill. Turnarounds in minutes. Real presence. Global distribution. Shared authoring in real-time if you want.

But what about the next five years?

I don't think we have to look very far to find what lies ahead in the next five years because it's already here in nascent form. It's partner-friendly IM, VoIP, desktop and telepresence video conferencing, real-time co-authoring, Web-centric productivity and collab tools, much better search across company information and data, virtual world meeting spaces, unified conferencing, remote team members as connected to you as those one floor away, meeting-centric collaboration platforms, content-derived expertise identification, tag clouds at the heart of semantically-drive search, social graphs at the heart of expertise location, and of course all services available from a mobile Internet device.

So what about the next 10 years?

Certainly most if not all the things above. But also semantically-defined information workspaces that better reflect your past and present behavior, 3D interactions with information, credibly realistic versions of you in virtual meeting rooms, much better audio experiences that capture three dimensions in comfortable earphones, much more civilized online experiences that better reflect our culture and social norms, and many more "intelligent" information services that knit together disparate but dumb information sources in ways that meet my specific needs (this is my view of the semantic Web).

What do you see for collaboration and content on the Web in the next 10 years? Please comment.

paper and pen