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What the Google Web will look like in 10 years

With the release of Google Public DNS, it appears that Google is making good on their earlier call to action for making the Web faster. In conjunction with that announcement several months ago, they launched the “Speed” site at Google Code with the headline “Let’s make the Web faster.” After setting up their DNS servers, which replaces the DNS servers from my ISP, I can confirm that my web browsing is indeed much zippier than before. So much so that it’s sort of shocking that ISP’s don’t seem to do much DNS optimization on their own – then again, why would they?
At first, this got me thinking about the self-serving aspects of Google Public DNS, in addition to Google’s other speed initiatives – which include Chrome, Chrome OS, and the announcement of the SPDY protocol. After all, these initiatives are aimed at more than just purely altruistic ends, they’re helping to make the Web a better platform for Google products. I quickly learned that we had already covered that material here on Pingdom’s blog, but the thought kept gnawing at me.
I decided at that point to take things a bit further. Of course Google wants to make the Web faster and more stable, but what will it all mean for the technology giant down the line? And how will their current projects evolve to take advantage of a better performing Web?
Looking ahead five years from now may not allow us to see the full extent of Google’s ambition, so I’ve decided to make a bit of a gamble. Based on the many chess pieces they’ve laid down since the launch of Gmail in 2004, along with a general sense of where today’s technology is headed, let’s jump forward ten years and imagine how things could end up for Google*.
*Assuming that we’re all still around after the Mayan calendar ends in 2012, Skynet remains fiction, and somehow the Large Hadron Collider doesn’t doom us all.

Google’s focus on speed will help bring us to a faster, lag-free Internet sooner

It probably won’t blow any minds to say that the Web will be significantly faster ten years from now. I’m not going to try and argue that Google Public DNS and the SPDY protocol will directly lead to a faster Internet, but Google’s increased focus on speed surely won’t be entirely in vain. Internet access speeds and infrastructure will naturally improve over time, but Google’s DNS service and Chrome browser are also making significantly faster speeds a reality today, and bringing to light the many inefficiencies we currently face on the Internet.
Chrome’s release made browser developers focus more heavily on Javascript performance, and also turned it into a hot topic among power users. Basically, it forced the competition to actually compete, and now improved Javascript performance figures are almost a requirement for developers to tout with every new browser version.
This is a pattern we’ll see repeated several times throughout this piece. It honestly doesn’t matter if Chrome becomes the top browser on the Web, or if its growth remains stagnant. Google made everyone step up their Javascript crunching game – and since that will make their apps faster across all browsers, Google wins no matter what.
Similarly, Google DNS has made more people aware of the issues with DNS resolution when left to ISPs, who haven’t really made DNS optimization a priority. Google DNS makes web browsing faster and safer, the only problem is that the process of changing DNS servers can be a little troublesome for general users (and of course, it introduces some new privacy concerns). The mere existence of Google Public DNS will make people aware of other DNS alternatives, like Open DNS, and ISPs may eventually be able to offer Google’s DNS optimizations on their own servers as an option to customers.

The Internet will be powerful enough to handle today’s offline applications

Many Internet users are already moving away from desktop applications and over to web applications, often without even realizing it. Few webmail users go through the trouble of configuring desktop client access anymore (unless they’re business users that really need Outlook), and I’ve seen many users make far more use of Google Docs than Microsoft Office in the past few years. You can even do some rudimentary audio and video editing using Aviary’s apps.
Ten years from now, we’ll be seeing even more powerful applications residing on the Web, and desktop apps will most likely be relegated to high-end media production and PC gaming. In addition to increased Internet speeds, we can attribute the future rise of better web apps to more robust web standards and plugins.
We’re already taking steps toward that today. Google recently announced that they’ll be moving away from Gears – their technology which allows for offline support, geolocation, and other robust desktop-like features for web applications – and will instead look toward the HTML 5 specification in the future since it supports many similar features.
It should be no surprise that HTML 5 mimics Gears so closely. In 2004, the specification was proposed by the Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group, and one of the founding members, Ian Hickson, is also a web standards proponent who has been working for Google since 2005. The group also includes individuals from Mozilla and Apple. Before it was called HTML 5, they referred to their specification proposal as “Web Applications 1.0”. With features like built-in media playback, drag and drop support, and offline storage, it’s clear that HTML 5 is still being built with web applications in mind.
Gears was another example of Google pushing the Web in a direction that they wanted. Now, along with Mozilla and Apple, they’ll be helping to shape the very standards the Web is based on with HTML 5.
In ten years, we’ll likely be looking at HTML 6 or 7, and even more powerful plugins from the likes of Adobe and Microsoft. HTML 5 is making strides towards reducing our dependence on third-party plugins, but I don’t think their respective companies will allow Flash or Silverlight to die off too easily.

Internet access will be ubiquitous, free to many, and Google will help make it happen

Now here’s where things become a little more speculative. We’ve already established that a faster and more powerful Web will ultimately be good for Google, and that they’re trying to jump-start innovation when it comes to making that a reality. But what of actual access to the Web? I predict that over the next decade, Google will see a great deal of value in helping to make Internet access more widespread, dirt cheap, and possibly even free. Decently fast web access could very well be ubiquitous in first-world countries.
If a faster and more powerful Web is good for Google, then surely getting more eyes on the Web is in their best interest as well. Broadband adoption will undoubtedly increase on its own over the next decade, but Google could help by figuring out ways to bring Internet access for free to emerging markets like Africa and South America, and low-income users in cities. They could also help to push legislation that would make cheap nationwide broadband a reality in America.

Wave will be an integral part of collaborative communication on the Web

Currently, Google Wave is suffering from confusion and dismissal by many users, which is very similar to what Twitter faced a few years ago (and is still facing today). It’s something that occurs every time a new technology appears and the public doesn’t quite know what to make of it. Sometimes the technology just disappears into oblivion, but once in a while it ends up changing the way we live.
Having used Google Wave in several capacities, from planning podcast episodes, to brain storming this very article, I can understand the confusion. On the face of it, the service is just a glorified chat client with an email interface. Dig a little deeper though, and the true face of Wave quickly makes itself clear.
Real-time updating, threaded conversations, and the ability to play back updates all end up making Google Wave the best collaborative resource on the Web. It’s better than Google Docs for simultaneous collaboration because of the real-time updates (instead of the “whenever it feels like it” updating of Docs), and the threaded conversation allow for some order amidst the collaborative chaos. And to make even further sense of how the conversation evolved, the ability to play back edits is immensely useful.
Many have seemed to forget this, but when it was first announced, Google intended for anyone to be able to deploy their own Wave server. It’s a protocol, like any other, and individually deployed Wave servers will be able to interact with the greater community.
What does this mean in ten years? For one, we’ll quickly see Wave implemented across the board on Google’s services. Businesses and other organizations will adopt it for in-group collaboration. I’d even wager as far to say that anyone who has an email account will have access to Wave. Wave’s real-time updating features will also see widespread use among mobile devices.

Android will have won the mobile platform wars

Yeah, I said it. Apple’s current lead in the smartphone space won’t last for long once Android finally gathers some steam. Android’s victory will be in sheer number of devices, as well as the ability to hit price points that Apple would never dare. Top-end Android phones will continue to compete with Apple’s iPhone successors, but Android will take Nokia’s place in ruling the dirt-cheap and free phone segment.
Not everyone needs a fancy smartphone with a huge screen and a fast processor, and the low-end Android phones will cater to that market. Of course, in a decade even the low-end phones will probably blow us away, but I think we’ll begin seeing cheap Android phones within the next few years. Then there’s also the speculation about the data-only VOIP Google phone, which could radically change the landscape for phone service.
In the end, having the fastest hardware, and the most apps in their online store (although that won’t last for long either), won’t be enough to keep Apple on top. That is, unless they come up with a radically cheap phone of their own. The fact that Android is free, customizable for handset makers, and deployable on a wide variety of mobile hardware, makes its mobile takeover more than just speculation. It’s inevitable.

Google Search will be able to find anything instantly – a harbinger of the Technological Singularity?

Short of reading minds, there will be nothing that touches the Web left that Google’s search engine can’t tackle. Just today they announced how they’re integrating real-time search results, using their secret sauce relevancy engine. Google Fellow Amit Singhal’s also mentioned the following, which seems especially prescient for this article, “Light can travel around the world in 1/10th of a second, and we won’t rest until the speed of light is the only barrier to getting good search results to you.”
While I’m not sure the laws of physics will ever allow that to be possible (unless everything between you and Google was pure fiber optic cabling), it’s nice to see that they’re always looking for that next milestone.
Relevancy will become increasingly important to Google as they have more and more information to deal with. Their problem won’t be gathering all the data, it’ll be making sense of it. It looks like they’ve already gotten a handle on how to implement Twitter, Facebook, and the like – it’ll be interesting to see how they tackle the rest of the upcoming deluge.
The increasing powers of Google Search will also be of great interest to Sci-Fi fans like myself a decade from now. Futurist types like Bill Joy and Ray Kurzweil have long predicted a point where artificial intelligence becomes self-improving, at which point they will quickly surpass human intelligence. Who knows what sort of tricks Google will employ down the line to stay ahead in the search engine game, but be wary if your search queries ever start seeming too smart.
But of course, the moment you realize that Google Search has become sentient, it’s already too late. 😉

Wrapping up

While the past decade has in many ways been ruled by Apple and their many instances of redefining the technological landscape, I predict that the next ten years will be Google’s reign. They’re now more than a young search engine startup. Google is a technological powerhouse that’s reshaping the Internet, the way we use it, and our overall relationship with technology.
Special thanks to my friends Carl Angiolillo and Dwayne De Freitas for their help with brainstorming this article.
Photo credit: Cheetah by Jason Bechtel.
About the author:
Devindra Hardawar is a tech/film blogger and podcast host. You can find him writing at the Far Side of Tech and Slashfilm.

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