Steve Jobs Forecasts the Future of the Web

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I recently watched a video called “Steve Jobs: The Lost Interview,” which has some never-before-seen footage of an interview with Steve Jobs from 1995. I must say, I have watched dozens, or maybe hundreds of hours of Steve Jobs’ talks, keynote presentations, interviews, and more, and I think this one stands out among many as what may be the most valuable.

It’s interesting for a few reasons. For one, it was recorded after Jobs had left Apple when he was the CEO of NeXT Computer and Pixar. It’s also interesting because of the predictions he makes way back in 1995 that were right on the money, particularly regarding the Internet.

Our company, Infront Webworks, is a web technology company: we’ve built two website content management systems; we design, develop, and host websites; and we offer cloud services such as offsite backups, hosted Microsoft Exchange, and more. So it’s fascinating for me to sit in my chair in an office at a company that relies on the technologies that didn’t even exist when this interview was filmed. And to see Steve Jobs’ vision of where the web would (or could) go is amazing: everything he predicted about the web eventually came to fruition.

Here’s an excerpt from the part I found most interesting:

Interviewer: “What’s your vision of… ten years from now, with this [web] technology that you’ve developed?”

Steve Jobs: “The web is incredibly exciting because it is the fulfillment of a lot of our dreams; that the computer would ultimately not be… a device for computation, but …a device for communication. And with the web, that’s finally happening. And secondly, it’s exciting because Microsoft doesn’t own it and therefore there’s a tremendous amount of innovation happening. …I think that the web is going to be profound in what it does to our society.

As you know, about 15% of the goods and services in the U.S. are sold via catalogs or over television… all that is going to go on the web, and more. Billions and billions, [up] to tens of billions of dollars’ worth of goods and services are going to be sold on the web. A way to think about it is: it is the ultimate direct-to-consumer distribution channel. Another way to think about it is: the smallest company in the world can look as large as the largest company in the world on the web.

So, I think as we look back ten years from now [which would be in 2005], the web is going to be the defining technology—the defining social moment—for computing. …it’s breathed a whole new generation of life into personal computing… the web is going to open a whole new door to this industry. I think it’s going to be huge.”

These statements were made back in 1995—nearly 18 years ago. For context, 1995 was the year Jeff Bezos first launched Google wasn’t even started until three years later. Most people used 56k dial-up modems via ISPs like America Online (AOL), if they were even “online” at all.

Here we are in 2013, using broadband internet, connected on gigabit networks, using smartphones to check our email and getting directions via GPS, and the total revenue generated via eCommerce just passed the one trillion dollar mark last year. This is all due to the power of the Internet.

Ultimately, I think Jobs’ most keen understanding was how he states that users don’t purchase computers for their computational power, but for their ability to empower communication. This is part of why he was such a master at creating products that people want—most companies fail to understand this concept. There exists a vast chasm between the two (computation vs. communication), yet it’s easy for companies to miss. While some companies have bet their entire future on making products that are incrementally faster hoping that consumers will notice, Apple continues to create innovative devices that empower communication, which is why “iDevices” are so popular.

As an example of what he’s talking about, think of Facebook or any other social network: people don’t sign up for Facebook so that they can have a Facebook account. They sign up for Facebook so they can connect with their friends and family in a meaningful way; a way that they couldn’t connect otherwise due to geographic limitations and time restraints. A mother in Colorado might create an account so she can share photos of her newborn child with her grandma in Minnesota. A college student might create an account so he can connect with his girlfriend while he’s away in school several states away from home. And so on.

Also, Jobs’ not-so-thinly-veiled smear against Microsoft might sound excessively partisan, but his point is much bigger than just a jab at a competitor: the driving force that has allowed the web to flourish with innovation is the fact that most of the web is open source. (If you’re not familiar with the term, it means that the protocols, languages, frameworks, and other kinds of technology that allow the web to run are, for the most part, free and open for anyone to distribute, modify, and use for their own needs without being restricted by fees or licensing).

For example, our SiteWorks 3 CMS was built in Ruby on Rails, which is an open source language. Also, PHP and MySQL are two extremely popular web software packages that run a majority of applications and websites; some sources even have figures showing that nearly 80% of websites are built in PHP, and 51% of the all the web servers use Apache, which is an open source web hosting software. The fact that you can create software and run programs using technologies that are free and easy to customize for your own particular use is phenomenally attractive to businesses, and they’ve taken full advantage of this via the web.

You can say what you want about Steve Jobs’ personality or temperament. I’ve never had to deal with his legendary bad temper and condescending management style, so I wouldn’t know what that’s like. But I do know this: I’m very glad to be part of the revolution that the web is. And as Jobs says in conclusion, “Isn’t this a wonderful place we live in?”

If you want a piece of the billion-dollar action that’s happening on the web now, contact us, and we can help you get your business online!

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