The evolution of the Internet

The world is changing, fundamentally and wholly for the better. There is a chance you don't see it yet. You're still in line for a job, or a car, reading about the latest music act in the newspaper, worrying about trees being felled in the Amazon rainforest and ordering a quick big mac on the way to work. Don't be fooled though, the technological changes that have occured in the last decade have paved the way for a new kind of society.

We are approaching what is known as a tipping point, a time when paradigm shifts can occur in a split second. This is the time when everything we think we know can change, wholly and fundamentally, in an instant.

The biggest change in society is the move away from paper based bureaucracy and closed networks towards social and technologically based organisational architectures and boundaryless global networks. The implications of this are immense, but we've only begun to tap into the resource that is the global internet enabled community.

Shortly after the internet's inception, and the introduction of usenet and VT100 terminals, the mosaic web browser was developed, replicating print based media online, available for the whole world to see. There was a sudden shift in power from those who had access to resources and distribution channels to the people with the most interesting content. With a website, anyone could publish to the Internet. With e-mail the world got smaller, more efficient.

Businesses were slow to catch up, initially implementing the technology to simplify the functionality of internal accountancy and human resources. Later businesses began to use automated marketing and sales tools to increase the efficiency of their sales pipelines. However, they still operated in fundamentally the same way as the always had. Top down hierachies, long, slow, bureaucratic recruitment drives, directors, project managers and open plan offices. The drive to put everyone behind a desk continued apace, and the nine to five regimen remained a norm.

The next stage of the development of the internet implemented the two way channel. Now, instead of just transmitting information at the general public, the public could also transmit back at the internet, through forums, comments, blogs and chat rooms. The world wide web was filled for the first time with millions of voices, all clamouring for attention. Internet marketing became more and more sophisticated as people tried to ensure their pages appeared at the top of search engines and were linked to as many other sites as possible. But websites were still simple on-line brochures or information repositories.

Offline, the development of design sofware made the production of print and web based material cost effective for the first time. It became possible to run businesses from home, to maintain stock lists and accounts using sofware packages, and to run marketing campaigns on a shoestring budget. Quality became more important than quantity, and the frictionless nature of the medium began to transform the marketplace, particularly in those industries that relied on the distribution or organisation of data (eg. music and film). Online distribution was vastly more efficient than what had come before, and the global marketplace, previously the exclusive domain of multinationals opened up for independent sole traders and small to medium enterprises.

At this stage, Google dominated the online landscape, producing a search engine that, for the first time in history, brought the knowledge of an entire world together and made it available to anyone with an internet connection, at a click of a button. Suddenly young people could learn about anything they liked, outside of the classroom, in their own time. Meanwhile, the inertia of the old system continued apace, with little change in schooling or the nature of existing businesses or government. The system had invested too much into its infrastructure and was slow to adapt. The rate of change in organisations and government didn't match the rate in change of technology. The youth started to outpace their parents in their understanding of what was possible, developing new subcultures at an increasingly rapid rate. The traditional role of parent as guardian and mentor became strained. The parents didn't understand what their children were doing anymore.

Meanwhile, software providers, led by Google started to introduce new technologies to the public in an integrated way. Online documentation and spreadsheets, cloud storage, YouTube, business services, the list was endless. The new financial model was based around advertising and the dot com bubble ensured investment was never difficult to find. However the general public was slow to pick up on these services, their imagination had not yet been fully captured.

Government agencies and large corporations were slower still, their tender processes tended to favour providers with the best connections rather than the best software. The N.H.S and other public sector services began to introduced over priced, over-engineered, buggy, inefficent software designed by friendly vendors with expertise in tendering. Corporations continued as usual, generally oblivious to change. The practice of employing older managers meant that the dominant logic of corporations was stuck in old paradigms.

Then came Facebook. For the first time the imagination of the general public was captured by the potential of social networking. Over the past two to three years, the nature of society as a whole has changed fundamentally. Now a chance meeting could lead to a lifelong connection. Friends were only a couple of clicks away, promoting and marketing events and products became simple. The mechanisms of business and social architecture were now available for anyone with a computer. Application programming interfaces (APIs) now enable programmers to develop software on top of Google and Facebook, to integrate their vast databases and applications such as Google Analytics and Google Maps. Facebook, crowd funding applications such as began to provide all the tools required for boundar

The implications and applications of these changes are still in their infancy. Facebook is still a somewhat passive medium, most of the transactions are retransmissions of quotes, photographs of events and personal information. However, the medium is much more powerful than this. In its current state, Facebook, in conjunction with other applications (eg. Twitter, Bandcamp, YouTube) may be used to implement a fully functional boundaryless organisation. The future is here, all that remains is to learn how to make the most of the tools that have been made available to us.

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