The Meaning of Internet

Asian business woman using a laptop on top of the mountain

The internet as we know it can trace it roots beck to the late 60s in America, but it was not until the mid 90s that this simple and primitive network started to become popular.  This was primarily due to the RFC (Request for Comments) 1945 labelled Hypertext Transfer Protocol — HTTP/1.0. In other words, the World Wide Web.

Today there are over 3 billion people connected to this single network of computers, smartphones and devices. This has of course had huge impact on most societies. People use Internet banking, email, social media, browsing and so on. So you might be wondering what innovation could possible follow. With the Internet, we a practically done, all that can be invented is already here. However, that view is simply wrong.

I believe we are still in early phases of this revolution. There are still many disruptions that are yet to come. And to understand the potential of the Internet you really need to understand its characteristics and what that means. So here are my six points about the Internet.

1. Everywhere – Ubiquitous Connection

Basically, today the Internet always there. People are always connected, in their workplace, home, hotels, restaurants or with their mobile where ever they go. This means that all the online services are available all the time where ever your are.

Most people have smartphones and thus access to all these services 24/7. Today, the smartphone is probably the one tool made by man that they get attached to very deeply. At least you never go far without it and people are constantly looking at their screens.

This is a very human trend and thus global and goes across cultures and countries. This picture shows the growth of the Internet and in comparison, the smartphone:

growthintotheinternetPicture is from Benedict Evans:

2. Untangleble – Digital

The first decade of the 21st century is called the Digital Decade. This is the time when all consumer products with content moved from analog to digital. Be it pictures with digital cameras, music with MP3 players, TV shows or films you played on your computer and books you read with e-readers. This is the greatest shift in technology since Thomas Edison invented the phonograph. You can say that the content lost it form. A song on an LP or CD became file on a disk drive – untangleble and thus very copiable. In fact, the Internet is a giant copying machines.

It is not just entertainment, this also includes invoices, information, educational material, airplane tickets, bookkeeping just to name few examples. All this has huge impact on consumer products, how we consume them and how we buy them. As an example, digital books can be bought in just few seconds, downloaded and ready to be consumed in few seconds. This has changed consumer behaviour and that has impact on businesses.

3. Data Floating in the Sky – Cloud Computing

More and more users find it convenient to store their data in the cloud. Most apps do that automatically anyways, and the user might not even be aware of the fact. This means that data is not fixed at a particular location or device. Since they are available from the network, they are available anywhere where and when there is connectivity. There are several general solutions for storing documents like Google Drive, Dropbox and Microsoft OneDrive.

With data and documents in the cloud, new possibilities emerge. You can share documents with others without making multiple copies. Others get access to the same document and this creates the possibilities of collaboration. It turned out the people started to prefer the then primitive Google Docs instead of sophisticated Microsoft Office because of the sharing and collaboration capacities.

4. Infinite computing – Utility computing

Its not only data in the cloud, its also computing power. Computing is like a utility that you tap into. Software today runs in data centres where the computing power is seems is unlimited and the power you need can be adjusted according to the load. Companies can save huge amount of capital investment in computing power that sits idle most of the time except for peek loads. Cost of maintenance and upgrades such as due to security is much lower. This also saves real estate since companies do not need to have a room full of computers.

The cost of creating a new startup that can offer and sell software to millions of consumers has fallen dramatically. Today, startups are born in coffee house by few people with their laptops and lattes.

5. The Invisible Middleman – Rise of Platforms

For centuries, the coordination between consumers and producers, buyers and sellers have been according to hierarchical structure. If you wanted to book a hotel room in a foreign city, you would talk to a travel agent. The travel agent would talk to an other travel agent that would talk with the hotel owner and thus book a room. For each transaction several people needed to be involved. This is called coordination cost. For most of the 20th century this cost was high and the process slow.

Now replace this coordination with software and the cost drops to as good as zero. And anything common that goes from expensive to nothing will be a revolution. We see the examples: Airbnb for booking rooms and Uber for rides. But we can also look at banking. With internet banking or bank apps, paying the bills can be done during breakfast in few seconds, instead of going to the bank and have a bank teller do the same thing using the enterprise software of the bank. Just put the software in the hands of the consumer and cut out the middleman.

6. Machine Communications – Rise of the API

Over the last few years we have seen huge increase in access to APIs (Application Programming Interface). With APIs, one software program can call the next software program over the Internet. Everything is in the cloud anyways.

Thus you can with an smartphone app get the temperature since the app you are using calls the Met Office for the information. This gives us frictionless connections of devices and the end of closed systems as devices can communication. This is the Internet of things.

But so what?

What does this mean? It means that despite enormous impact of the internet so far, there is still a huge untapped potential. It’s really when technology “goes away” and becomes invisible and taken for granted that it begins to be relevant and make impact. In all of those examples above, its not about the technology but the uses of technology.

We are now entering an era of wearables, drones, Internet of things, deep learning networks and virtual reality. All of these technologies will use the internet as a building block enabling access to those technologies.