Friday, December 16, 2016

10 Technologies that Changed the Way You Use the Internet

It wasn’t that long ago that we were looking at websites that were just pages of text with links to other sites! Whereas nowadays, we can read artificially short pages of text with one billion ads alongside them, and we call that progress…kidding!

In all seriousness, here are the top 10 technologies I can think of that have made the Internet what it is, and that are shaping the ‘net today.


The Mozilla Firefox Web Browser


Internet Explorer 6 had over a 90% market share. It was also the point at which Microsoft stopped trying to make it better. Why bother? A lot of websites only worked on IE6 anyway, so no one was going to switch. Right?


Firefox changed that. It took the web away from Microsoft and gave it to everyone. Because of Firefox, Microsoft actually had to start competing and improving their web browser, and the web got better for everyone. So whether you use Firefox or not, you’ve benefited from it. You can download Firefox by clicking here!


Macromedia (now Adobe) Flash


Flash is shiny. It’s where a lot of animated websites come from. It’s also where animated ads come from, especially the ones that cover the page that you’re trying to read. So it gets on a lot of people’s nerves!


At the same time, though, it made websites more interesting back in the day. And because it was easy to create things using Flash, it let artists and graphic designers create their own interactive websites and animations. It’s all tied to and owned by one company, but it’s still a technology that changed the web.


The iPhone


The iPhone has done two things! One, it made people realize how awesome browsing the web on their phones can be, especially the makers of rival handsets. Two, it’s made web designers realize they can’t make websites that are just made in Flash, because the iPhone doesn’t support Flash! That’s good from an accessibility standpoint, as well as convenience — you can’t bookmark a “page” on a Flash site, and they’re harder for physically impaired people to use.


LiveJournal


It’s hard to believe now, but at one point LiveJournal was revolutionary. If it wasn’t the first website to have a “Friends List,” it was one of the first. It had ways to control who read your writing long before Facebook did, too, and because it’s open-source a lot of volunteers (and even other websites based on LiveJournal!) have helped out with it. A lot of the features we take for granted on social networking sites today may have first made it big on LiveJournal.


WordPress


WordPress goes one step beyond LiveJournal and lets you create your own website for free, not just a blog. And because it’s open-source, a whole slew of volunteers have helped out by improving the programming code, and by writing thousands and thousands of “plug-ins” and themes for it. WordPress has made it easy for people to make their own websites, even professional ones, and they’ll give you your own for free on wordpress.com if you don’t have a web hosting plan.


AJAX


What the heck is AJAX? Basically it’s interactive websites and special effects like Flash, but without the Flash. That means they work on an iPhone, and it’s easier to make them accessible to physically impaired people (and convenient to use). What’s more, AJAX effects can be blended into a normal website, instead of living in a tiny Flash “box.” You know how when you post a comment on some sites, instead of reloading the page your comment just appears there? That’s one way AJAX makes things better. Oh yes, so is Google Maps — an AJAX-based web app.


Linux


Linux is the software that powers a lot of web servers, including the ones that “serve” your computer some big-name websites over the Internet. It’s open-source like WordPress is, so it’s been improved massively over the years, making it better for running a web server than Windows or anything else. And it’s free, so if you have some knowhow you can install it on one of your old, spare computers and have your own web server.


The Startup


Did you catch that part about how Linux is free? Well, WordPress is free too, and so are all of the other software tools that you need to make a great website. That means that darned near anyone can just download them onto an old computer and start making a website from scratch, even a “web app” like Twitter or Google Maps. Put two or three people in an apartment and have them working on this together, and you have an Internet startup! It’s so easy, and it’s a social “technology” that’s shaped the Internet. Because a lot of big-name sites started as startups, including Google.


Social Media


Social media means sites like Flickr and DeviantArt, where people show pictures they’ve taken and things that they wrote. And they’re another big social “technology” that’s changed the Internet, because before them you had to make your own “homepage” from scratch! Because of that, a lot of the things published online were just made by big companies, and they weren’t half as entertaining.


The only problem with social media sites is that they have to make money somehow. And usually that means ads. But people don’t go to these sites to see ads, they go to these sites to share things with their friends! So they ignore the ads, which means that the ads get more intrusive, kind of like they are now on LiveJournal and Facebook. So what’s the next step?


Dreamwidth


You may have never heard of Dreamwidth. But in a nutshell, it’s an Internet startup that’s like LiveJournal, but without the ads and run by people who actually care. Instead of letting advertisers use what people there write, Dreamwidth is only supported by people who pay to use it. So to make sure that they don’t grow too quickly, they make it so that you have to get an invite code from somebody there in order to get a free account.


If you think about it, it’s sort of like the way Flickr does things. You get very limited use of the site for free, but in return there are no ads at all.


The Upshot


There are a lot of other things that are awesome about Dreamwidth! Basically, if you’ve ever read my article “You’re Not Allowed to Stop Using Facebook,” they’ve done everything right, and corrected all of the problems that lock people into sites like Facebook whether they like it or not. Those will have to wait for another article, though.


In the meantime, have fun out there, and remember the technologies that changed — and are changing — the Internet.


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