30 Internet and App Phases

Random Observation/Comment #815: Technology is so much fun to follow. I will always be a technology philosopher.

//Generated on MidJourney. I love how cool this looks, but how meaningless it is.

Why this List?

The internet and tech world have been on a wild ride for the past 50+ years. It all started with big, clunky mainframe computers and the birth of ARPANET, which was kind of the granddaddy of the internet we know today. As we moved through the years, we went from simple, static web pages (Web 1.0) to a world where users create and share their own content (Web 2.0), and now we’re heading towards a decentralized internet (Web 3.0) run on blockchain tech.

Along the way, smartphones turned us all into app addicts, and AI and machine learning are making our tech smarter and more personalized. I wrote this list to cover the biggest milestones on this wild tech journey and also consider how each of these tools gained traction on content and users.

  1. World Wide Web (Web 1.0, 1991): Static web pages that allowed for browsing but had limited interactivity. HTML and CSS with crappy browsers. Everyone eventually wanted to make a website for their business or idea. The pain point was really server hosting and discoverability.
  2. Search Engines (1990s): Tools like Google, Yahoo, and AltaVista that indexed the web and made it searchable. Search engines continue to optimize by answering natural language queries. This is still a static list response. It did make a big difference and started the ad business.
  3. E-commerce (1995): Amazon and eBay were some of the first successful examples of online retail. I think the biggest innovation is the speed and reliability of last mile delivery. Buying/selling marketplaces is such a big use case when connecting people. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
  4. Web Portals (1990s): Websites like MSN and AOL that provided a variety of services including search, news, email, and chat. Everyone wants a dashboard of everything and then have their material be at the top of the dashboard like the front page of a newspaper. This definitely proliferated digital journalism and accessibility.
  5. Blogs (late 1990s): Platforms like Blogger and WordPress allowed for personal and professional content publishing. Can’t forget Xanga! Everyone has something to say, but is everyone willing to host their own website and buy ads to say it? The plugins for WordPress really made it easy to manage and started Content Management Systems (CMS).
  6. Peer-to-Peer (P2P) File Sharing (late 1990s): Technologies like Napster, BitTorrent facilitated decentralized file sharing. I’m actually surprised how little need I have for torrenting now that streaming has everything. I also remember counter-bootleggers flooding the search terms with garbage files that were the same video and audio lengths.
  7. Internet Forums (2000s): Online discussion sites where people can hold conversations in the form of posted messages. I still get most of my news from Reddit. Who remembers Digg.com? I would still use Stumbleupon.
  8. Social Networks (Web 2.0, early 2000s): MySpace, Friendster, Facebook, Twitter (now “X”), LinkedIn, and others created platforms for connection and sharing. The social graph of connections is the key to building value and sharing customized news. There are so many features that make social networks addictive, but I think the main one that grew a network effect of connections is the ability to import contacts and search for people by email, phone number, high school, or other affiliated groups.
  9. Video Sharing (2005): YouTube and later Vimeo, Twitch, Reels, TikTok and others made it easy to upload and share videos. Today, we have shorter form video in a portrait instead of landscape format. The huge adoption story here is with monetization of creators. People today probably make more money with affiliate marketing, but early days of view counts was extremely attractive. I also think video tutorials and product marketing via video is such a big part of companies reaching out to their customers.
  10. Wikis (2000s): Wikipedia and other wikis made crowd-sourced knowledge repositories possible. I love the ease of use for the interfaces and the collaborative nature of free resources. Also, someone is wrong on the internet and I must correct them so they hopefully change their opinion.
  11. Cloud Computing (2006): Services like Amazon Web Services (AWS) made it possible to rent computing power and storage, reducing the need for owning and managing servers. This made deployment and site reliability so much cheaper. I think this was the catalyst for most SaaS companies being able to create tighter margins.
  12. Mobile Internet (late 2000s): The rise of smartphones and mobile apps with the launch of Apple’s iPhone and App Store, followed by Android (and briefly Windows phones, RIP). We still use mobile apps today that connects to phone-level data and location services. I think the app model being free to download and install really set the pricing across the board for the market. All free apps also then flooded their interfaces with ads.
  13. Location-Based Services (late 2000s): Apps like Foursquare, Uber, and later Pokemon Go leveraged GPS technology for location-specific services. Geocache-ing is so hot right now. I still think Google Maps is one of my top 10 apps of all time. Solve the traveling salesman problem for me.
  14. Internet of Things (IoT, 2010s): Networked devices from smart thermostats to industrial sensors became common. Everything connects to the internet! I must say the meat thermometer with the phone app is pretty great. This became more of a feature differentiator than anything else. Remember when someone’s system got hacked by a wifi-enabled toaster?
  15. Streaming Services (2010s): Netflix, Spotify, and others provided streaming video and audio content. Streaming has changed everything in the media industry. Who watches cable TV anymore? The big adoption point here is binge-worthy on-demand content.
  16. Big Data (2010s): Technologies like Hadoop and Spark facilitated processing and analysis of large datasets. I still remember this buzzword along with Data Lakes. Unfortunately, you don’t always have permissions to combine this data together. I think this was much more enterprise tooling added through cloud provider apps.
  17. Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning (2010s and beyond): The rise of data-driven AI and machine learning applications, powered by platforms like TensorFlow and PyTorch. AI has been around for a long time and these algorithms really helped push research forward. I’m not surprised Image and Video improvements applying AI were released before chat-based use cases.
  18. Augmented Reality (AR, 2010s): Apps like Snapchat and games like Pokemon Go overlaid digital information on the real world. I think Google Glass was way ahead of its time. There’s a new surge of thinner glasses that include connections to voice assistants. I don’t know if this is going to catch on unless we’re really adding audio-based operating systems.
  19. Virtual Reality (VR, 2010s and beyond): Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and others created immersive virtual environments. It’s a glimpse into your Metaverse and the “Ready Player, One” lifestyle. I think Apple Vision puts a stake in the ground because Apple has never made a bad product.
  20. Cryptocurrencies (2010s): Bitcoin and subsequent cryptocurrencies offered decentralized digital money. Are all crypto launches casinos and speculation? Probably. The initial value has funded a lot of subsidized networks.
  21. Blockchain Technologies (2010s and beyond): Beyond cryptocurrencies, blockchain enabled new decentralized applications (dApps). The network is the app store and the embedded payments and secondary markets. Blockchains are still about trust and decentralization.
  22. Voice Assistants (mid 2010s and beyond): AI-powered personal assistants like Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant that respond to voice commands are embedded into devices. I think these will get a revival or upgrade based on LLM implementations and personality prompts.
  23. Autonomous Vehicles (late 2010s and beyond): Self-driving cars and trucks, led by companies like Waymo and Tesla, and drone technology for delivery and surveillance. I think the assisted driving features are actually good enough and already in all new car models. The adoption for this is decided by the market of features.
  24. Decentralized Finance (DeFi, late 2010s): Projects like MakerDAO, Compound, and Uniswap allowed for decentralized lending, borrowing, and trading. The stablecoins made people chase less volatility while staying on-chain. DeFi provides liquidity to projects and bootstraps networks.
  25. 5G Networks (2020s): The fifth generation of mobile networks, providing faster speeds, lower latency, and the capacity to connect a lot more devices at once. This adoption was accelerated by Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and phones. The adoption was easy because there’s no switching cost. The new phones just worked like the old ones.
  26. Decentralized Web (Web 3.0, 2020s): Decentralized storage and computation with projects like Filecoin and IPFS. Another innovation talking point that resonates more with traditional companies is the process of Progressive Decentralization. This means you don’t forget about product market fit and you leverage the open source community members and partnerships to build together. I think this is still very relevant.
  27. Biometrics (2020s): Technologies for identifying individuals based on physical or behavioral traits, used in security and surveillance applications. The thumbprint and facial recognition was also easily adopted because it was just turned on from the operating system level.
  28. Metaverse (2020s and beyond): A collective virtual shared space, created by the convergence of virtually enhanced physical reality and physically persistent virtual reality. The space in itself is usually private or within a game, but maybe there’s a “home” and “community” space where you can connect with others. I don’t think different games want to share their ecosystem.
  29. AI-enabled Applications & Generative AI (2020s and beyond): Widespread use of AI in apps for personalization, recommendation, natural language processing, etc. This is everywhere and part of the reason why I wanted to write this list. I felt that the rollout of specific features for ChatGPT were accelerated.
  30. Neuralink (2020s and beyond): Although still in early stages, I can imagine our generation still using keyboards and voice activation while the new generation transmits thoughts to other people directly into their brains. Here I am – stuck using my meat flaps while the Gen ZZers are working and connecting in their sleeps and dreams.

~See Lemons Follow Tech Growth