A Decade After it was Announced, Web 2.0 Finally Arrives
This Pommie Pixel Pusher is long in the tooth enough to remember designing web pages to work on 640×480 screens, back in the mid 90s. Let me tell you, that was something! Once you’d taken into account the browser bars, your working area was less than the space a modern day designer has to play with when designing for mobile. Luckily those hulking grey monitors have been consigned to the hard rubbish of history, along with dial-up and Windows 3.1. It really was like trying to fit everything on the back of a beer mat. I guess those pioneering days were Web 1.0.
A few years later, some marketing bods got bored and decided that was no longer enough and so the whole Web 2.0 thing was born. It was 2004 and apart from faster connections and monitors, nothing had really changed. Phones were dumb and a pad was something you drew on with a pencil. Creatives were doing 800×600 layouts by then and thought the days of designing so small were gone forever. Screens were getting bigger, forever!
Some Nostradamus act that was. The small screen is back with a vengeance. This, right now, is Web 2.0. The Internet’s gone full circle and back to a beginning, of sorts. Bonus points if you’re reading this on a mobile during your commute.
It’s been a while brewing, but the mobile has become the new workstation. The hub. The Swiss Army Knife of internet tools. Catering for this platform of course means using many of the exact same disciplines creatives were calling upon 20 years ago. We didn’t have names like User Experience Designer or User Interface Designer, yet some classic web sites were still created. Anyone old enough to remember how much easier to use Amazon and eBay once were before they lost their way a few years ago, feel free to nod sagely.
And now, in the “Mobile First” space of Web 2.0, the industry is suddenly in need again. Of people who can tuck away information on a small screen and get a user from A to B to checkout without Googling your competitors in a fit of technology rage.
It’s not easy. I’m sure you’ve come across a few web sites in the last week that made you want to pinch the designer who neglected to make it responsive.
The latest generation smartphones are superior in every respect to a 1990’s computer (I once laid out an ad for computers that described a 25MHz processor as being “Cutting Edge”) and have touchscreens too. The processor in an iPhone 6 could eat a copy of 1995 Photoshop before breakfast. There was once a time when it was desktop computers that were getting twice as fast every 18 months. It’s been phones for a while now.
The little screen is king again – accounting for over half of browsing behaviour on many large sites – so what next? Well, If I only knew the answer. I’m pretty sure I almost bought a Betamax once so I’d hesitate to call myself an oracle on this, but eventually bigger screens again, surely. The Apple Watch is probably the smallest you’d want to go.
The mobile will likely carry the “brains” and link to monitors in all sorts of places. The front of a fridge, maybe. Or the windows of a car, for augmented driving.
Whatever happens next, it’s time to draw a line under the first age of the Internet and recognise we’re now living – at last – in the second. This might last 20 years, 10, or 2. But the core discipline of creating accessible, captivating user experiences at least remains the same. And canny designers would do well to remember that while PCs have gone from 40MHz to 4GHz in 20 years; the people using them haven’t evolved to quite the same exponential degree.
So let’s hear it for Web 2.0. Because now it’s passé to say it; it’s finally happened.