Allow me a brief retrospective: it’s 2004 and I’ve just graduated, but I’m visiting friends still at university. One of them tells me about Facebook – ‘it’s the best thing ever!’ – but because I don’t have a university email address any more, I can’t use it. The following year I get a Gmail account – it’s invite-only, but a guy on my PR postgrad has access.That wasn’t my first experience of the internet, which involves murky IRC chatrooms, but it marks a point when I started to realise the potential of the web. Today is the 30th anniversary of the World Wide Web and it’s come a long way in the last fifteen years.
In 2004, the web was barely relevant to my life. Amazon was around, but Play.com gave you free shipping, so I used that. There was no twitter, no Instagram. Blogging wasn’t really a thing – I’d seen Geocities, but those backgrounds… Google maps didn’t exist; my life in London relied on a cheap A-Z map with post-it notes marking night bus locations.
Today the web affects almost everything we do and many of our clients at Firefly have made their names because of it. From the team at NGINX, creating web server software because demand for the web was so high, to the Internet Society, which offers advice, guidance and support to the public, bodies and policymakers on issues relating to the web and wider internet itself.
We’ve also seen the web used for ill purposes; our friends at SafeToNet and the Internet Watch Foundation have both committed substantial time and energy to combating issues of online abuse. Ultimately, the web is a mirror for humanity; even if we invent ‘proper’ AI, it will reflect human biases and weaknesses – as well as our strengths, creativity and positivity.
The first ever web page was a communications document; a guide on how to use the web. A large proportion of our work as PRs and communicators today focuses on influencing the web, be it directly to journalists who write for online publications, creating resources for brands to help communicate with their audiences or be found more easily through search.
The web hasn’t always had an easy time, but if it looks as different in fifteen years’ time as it did fifteen years ago, it’s going to be an interesting few decades.