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Something for everyone

The world wide web is a diverse, never ending void. There are sites out there for almost every conceivable interest that you may have in life. Ourselves, businesses and governments worldwide are moving more of our personal details online to make completing day-to-day tasks more convenient and accessible to all.

Whilst the vast majority of content on the web isn’t that great and sometimes questionable, we are all spending more of our time online. There are so many websites that are so useful to us, some have become an important part of our life, so much so that we can start to feel like we couldn’t survive without them anymore.

Easy access

What’s more, it’s never been as easy as it is now to access the web. We can access the internet using our desktop and laptop computers, netbook and mobile devices from almost wherever we want and at faster and faster speeds.

A good thing

As a person who makes a living from the web, and someone who enjoys what it has to offer, I can truly say that I love the internet and the good it’s done for ‘mankind’. It has given us all a voice which can travel further than ever before.

Sceptics will point out all the bad things that take place on the internet, but I believe the internet is being used mostly by millions worldwide as a force for good.

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Where are we going

I do however start to wonder where this is all heading. Right now there are 106,082,168 registered domains worldwide [Source: Web Hosting Info – July 2009] and growing by around 100,000 every week which is an incredible number. If we carry on like that, we will have almost 350,000,000 websites in 2050.

New audiences

We must not forget that more and more people around the world are accessing the web for the first time.

Developing countries are playing an increasingly bigger part in the online world, bringing with them fresh ideas. I’m sure these countries will help to steer the web in a new direction.

Children are now growing up using the web, making it a part of their life at such an early age and they will certainly be looking for different things and asking more from the web than ever before (I’m starting to feel a little old now I’ve said that).

information overload

Right now I use around 20-25 sites on a regular basis for work and home life and probably occasionally visit another 50 more sites, and it’s already making me go crazy trying to keep track of them all. There are just too many log-in details to remember and urls to bookmark. There are of course sites and tools that help with this but you’ve still gotta remember the details for them too.

We are all unique and so too are the websites we visit. Each site has it’s own way of displaying it’s content and it’s hard going from one site to another where navigation can vary so greatly and the overall user experiences can be vastly different.

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RSS feeds are a great way of staying up to date on news and site developments from one central place but they are updated so often that once you have aggregated feeds for all the websites your interested in following, you could end up spending a large chunk of your day just reading them.

There comes a point in most of our online lives where we will hit a wall, reaching a limit to how many new websites we can take on board and engage with. Most of us will just continue to use those tried and ‘trusted’ websites we’ve already been using for a long time and in doing so missing out on newer, better, easier to use sites.

What’s the answer?

I’m not entirely sure, the web is too big and a personal thing for any one of us to fully understand. But there are a few things we could do to stop the overload of information. Here are a few of my own ideas – they’re just my ideas and not perfect solutions by any means.

Logins and Passwords

Whilst we already have sites like Delicious that help us bookmark and organise websites, and tools which can securely save the many passwords that we must remember, these are still in their infancy and have a long way to go before they are truly useful.

Bookmarking sites need to be more visually appealing, easier to search and be able to tag the sites by themselves where possible – perhaps taking the keywords used in the search engine that go you to that site in the first place? Searching bookmarking sites needs to become more interactive, perhaps like Time Machine on a Mac or the new search history on Safari?

Open ID and similar schemes I think are the way forward for password issues. We need to have one, ultra secure, login for all the sites that we use. This type of idea will probably need to be led by international organisations and governments and the security technology used (finger print/eye scanning etc) would need to carefully chosen but being able access all the sites we love to use with one single username/password would be great wouldn’t it.

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Social Networking

I use Facebook and Twitter just like millions of others, some friends of mine use Hi5, LinkedIn, Bebo, Plaxo, Doppir, MySpace …. you get the idea! Now, this variety and choice out there is a great thing. As we know, healthy competition leads to great innovations that simply cannot be achieved without it.

The issue I have with this is that in order to keep connected to all my friends I have to signup to most of those above and enter my details again and again. I want to be able to have one profile, one profile photo, one set of profile details and be able to use them on all of the social networking sites out there.

Some work has been done with regards to this, but much more work is needed to get the many different sites out there to agree to share information amongst each other about their users (if we permit them to that is)

My vision is simple though, for example when I upload a set of photos or a video to Facebook, I want to be able to share them with my friends on Hi5 without having to upload them again. Social networks can continue to compete for users by doing what they do best and finding their own niche market, but they must consider their users needs more.

Shopping (Search)

Shopping online can be hard work, finding a product, the best price and reading through all the terms and conditions and trying to uncover all the hidden charges.  Not all of us want to just go to the same online stores again and again (although these stores would surely love us to), so there needs to be an easy way to find what we want.

Price comparison sites are great at what they do, but they are limited to price and the number of sites they search (paid to search through commissions that is).

There is a real need to have one big directory for all online retailers, with detailed correct information for each product, the ability to read user reviews about each retailer and product and ask questions and even compare products across different sites.  All done in a transparent and open way. Problem is who would control all this?

Probably the search engines. Google have Product search, other search engines have their own version, it’s a good start but a long way from being an ideal place to start your shopping online.

Shopping (Buying)

There are millions of sites now that sell things. The quality of the websites varies hugely, with many different ways of merchandising their online shop and navigating through them.  How are they doing? Pretty good overall but I certainly feel that standardising certain parts of online shops across the board would be of great benefit to their users as well as the shops themselves.

Plus, I would like it for a shopping site to know what I’m looking as soon as I get there ad present me with that information or that range or products that I am looking for. I’ll cover this idea more a little later.

One person – One Site

Maybe we should all have a website given to us upon birth. This site could hold all our personal information and be the main port of call for getting us through our many years of education, job hunting, healthcare issues, completing government tasks and doing our online banking etc similar to a national identity card I suppose but online.

We should have as much personal information publicly available as we choose to, in  the same way that we do now with our own personal websites and social networking sites. Maybe these sites given to us at birth could be linked with the social networks out there or in fact become them?

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Our profile travels with us

When I visit a website, I want to be able to pass some of my personal information (taken in some say from our own website), to the site we are visiting so that the site can direct me to the content I am interested in. I can take only the information I want it to take from my profile, look at previous purchases and get me to where I want to be without me having to search at all.

Again, some of this is already possible but remains mostly unknown to users and is certainly not in mainstream use amongst online businesses.

The are some obvious security and privacy issues to think about here of course but it’s an idea that could make life more interesting and more fullfilling. Just imagine being able to get to the information we want quicker and easier than ever before. We could block out all the advertising we don’t care for and just be shown advertising for things we’re actually interested in, not just in the virtual world but the real world too, surely that could save a lot of wasted time in our lives (This is starting to sound like an Arnold Schwarzenegger film).

Standards

With all sites being different, it’s difficult searching for what you want across multiple sites. There are web conventions that aim to make sites use similar standard ways of displaying certain content.  Problem is many sites developers ignore them with the aim of standing out from the crowd. Problem is, many of these sites just confuse the user who ends up leaving the site very quickly.

Less is more

Are there too many websites out there? Maybe the number of websites will start to shrink? As the online giants get bigger and bigger will the smaller players admit defeat and just give up trying to complete?

I think in some ways this is already happening. Just as I have been saying, there are only so many sites we can remember and regularly use.

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There have been many occasions where I have been looking for gifts and gone straight to the likes of Amazon and Play, not even considering looking elsewhere. Why? Laziness maybe, but mostly because of convenience. I remember my login details with them, I am used to navigating their sites and comparing products and of course they offer fast delivery and cheap prices.

Conclusion

There are many more ideas I could talk about, and even the ones I have mentioned above I could easily have elaborate more on, but it’s already too much for one article.

If some of my ideas above come to fruition then we could all be using more sites than we do now. Surely that has got to be a good thing for the smaller online businesses out there now, trying their best to be found by you.

The web is a very big place, it’s sometimes difficult to navigate and can be a frustrating place to be – but I still keep coming back eagerly for more. All I know is, I am excited about the future of the web and whatever happens I believe it’s only gonna keep getting better from here.

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