What Comes After Websites?
The internet, for as long as it has been a part of public consciousness, has been navigated through one, universally accepted and understood interface: the website. We’ve been conditioned to understand websites as the means by which we connect to the information superhighway. Whether we’re looking for information about Henry VIII, the price of new sneakers, or what, exactly, that strange rash could be, we navigate to that information via websites. Always. Everything we have done online to this point has been filtered through the concept of a website. But something is changing.
Not long ago, we designed and developed a custom application that served rich media content directly to a hardware device (Apple TV), without the need of a website to act as an intermediary. As we experimented with that project and thought about the kinds of projects we’d worked on lately, we found ourselves wondering if we were facing a new reality: Was the web evolving to be website-less?
Wearables, IoT, chatbots… all of these web-connected experiences can be served to users without a website as the interface. What does that mean for UX and for the ways we will use, interact with, and even understand the web in the future?
From the printing press…
Futurists regularly dream up fantastic concepts of what new, life-altering things technology could bring us. A few hundred years ago, machine-printing text was a revolutionary, even outlandish idea but it wasn’t long before it moved from wacky concept to concrete idea, and today we can print anything we want, anytime, anywhere.
As technology has advanced, so have our dreams of what could be possible. Not long ago, the idea of an intelligent computer interface — one that responded to queries and carried on a conversation with a human — was more than a little far-fetched. Now it’s something we’re on the cusp of mainstreaming.
All this to say that though the idea of an internet navigated without websites might be hard for most of us to envision, the reality of it is upon us. We are already staring down the barrel a website-less future. But where is it taking us?
…to brain implants…
Ates Goral, a Senior Developer here at Myplanet, has his suspicions about where this could go, and how imminently we should expect it to happen. “Let me put it this way: The keyboard still exists” he says. “I’ve tried AR and VR and they’re cool, but it’s a wonky experience. A keyboard and mouse is still the most efficient thing, and I think the next step that would be truly satisfying — that could overtake the straightforward navigation of a keyboard/mouse/website interface — would be a direct brain connection.” A direct brain connection may sound outrageous, but like the printing press before it, it may not be as far-off or bizarre as we think.
Elon Musk, famed entrepreneur, futurist, and all-around innovation pusher, launched Neuralink in March of this year. Neuralink is Musk’s latest future-tech endeavour, and this one is centered around the human-brain connection. In an article by Nick Statt for The Verge, Statt describes Neuralink as “centered on creating devices that can be implanted in the human brain, with the eventual purpose of helping human beings merge with software and keep pace with advancements in artificial intelligence.”
Merging human beings with software is a particularly prickly thought for most of us, but less than 30 years ago the idea of electric, self-driving cars would have sounded highly unlikely. Now Musk and many others who saw the potential in the idea have us on on the cusp of an automated automobile revolution. Underestimating the brain-chip idea would be, at best, short-sighted.
And Musk isn’t the only one interested in this kind of thinking. Evernote founder Stepan Pachikov is similarly neural-connection motivated. In a piece by Pamela Rosen, she writes of Pachikov that “[h]e sees this future technology existing as a literal physical extension of the human brain, perhaps as an embedded chip.” Rosen goes on to quote Pachikov, whose take on embedding a chip in the human brain is probably, for most of us, a bit blase:
“It’s just another type of integration. You already use a lot of technology to make you more powerful… You wear glasses to make you see better, don’t you? I put my glasses on; I have no vision issues… You don’t need to bring it to your ear if it’s just a part of your body.”
Of course, the ideas of Musk, Pachikov, and others are still fairly far-fetched. To date, there haven’t been any iPhone-like game-changers in the field, completely upending the way we understand the internet or human brains. In fact, there aren’t even any actionable fantasies of what that could look like. So far, it’s all just theoretical.
“If you look at cell phones and tablets and the way those technologies have evolved, at one time they were wild and crazy pipe dreams,” says Ates, “but the ideas were there in science fiction and the popular imagination. You watch old Star Trek episodes and you see people communicating over great distances with handheld audio devices not unlike cellphones, or you see people pulling up information on what is essentially a tablet. Right now, we don’t have those same, clear ideas of what future technologies could look like.”
The landscape is, at best, murky at the moment. The Internet of Things is an ill-defined, loosely connected group of web-enabled devices, but they are — by and large — website-less devices. Similarly, the wave of new wearable technologies are web-connected, but not website-connected. Some of them still have websites where data is retrieved or set-up occurs, but we’re starting to shift away from that static understanding of web interfaces. Where we are going next remains frustratingly hazy.
As the number of ways we connect and interact with the internet proliferates — and these new methods enter mainstream markets — figuring out what we want them to look like will be an endlessly changing and dynamic arena. We’re heading towards what Chris O’Neill, the current Evernote CEO, describes visionary ideas like Pachikov’s as: “a world in which we could capture ideas at the speed of thought.” When we’re moving that quickly, a website might just be more of a roadblock than we want.
Interested in being part of the discussion of life beyond websites? Leave your comments below. Or, apply to come work with us— we’re looking for a Conversational Product Developer to help us build CUI solutions (and a few other folks as well).