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30 years of the website: 5 lessons for the next 30 years of content delivery

March 28, 2022 | By John Agger, Principal Industry Marketing Manager for Media & Entertainment – Fastly @fastly and
Lee Chen, VP of Business Development – Fastly, Inc.

It’s been 30 years since Tim Berners-Lee launched the world’s first website. Throughout human history, new methods of communicating, recording, and sharing knowledge have spurred major technological revolutions. Just as the Gutenberg Bible transformed the way we reproduced and distributed information through movable type and printed words, the internet and Hypertext Transfer Protocol – HTTP – kicked off another revolution that changed the way in which we disseminate and consume information.

As an industry, digital media continues to innovate and find new ways to use the web. When you stop and think about it for a second, it’s truly remarkable that a platform originally built for hyperlinking text documents has proven flexible and open enough to become the backbone of content distribution and consumption for the majority of the world.

The evolution continues today as visitors demand more personalized, engaging, and secure online experiences. This is as true for digital media as any other segment. Audience expectations are constantly changing, and we must evolve at an ever-increasing speed to keep up.

A future focused perspective

Just as we couldn’t anticipate the web’s progression in 1991, it’s hard to imagine what the web will look like 30 years from now. One thing’s for certain though: reader expectations will continue to grow, probably at a faster pace than we’ve seen so far. Getting ahead by having the foresight to envision what’s coming so you can steer your business in that direction is what will propel some media companies to the head of the line.  

CDNs and other technologies core to delivery must build the future of the web in a way that’s flexible enough to address the unknown while still ensuring secure, performant, and resilient user experiences. While the infrastructure and protocols are crucial building blocks, there’s much you can do to keep your options open and make sure that your web outlet is ready for changes that will undoubtedly come.

Let’s look closer at five things you can do to be future ready:

1. Prioritize scale from the beginning

Building with an eye toward the future means you’re building at scale from the start. If you contemplate a world where everyone has access to the web, that means that any single app with any kind of success has the potential for millions or billions of downloads and visitors — all at once. If you don’t architect for that in the languages you choose, the systems you use, and the vendors you partner with, the experience won’t live up to expectations. 

2. Build with flexibility in mind

If the last 30 years have taught web developers and architects anything, it’s that we can’t imagine all of the web’s major future uses. You must build with that in mind and create frameworks that are flexible enough to adapt to the evolution of the web. HTTP is a great example. The protocol has been updated three major times, and we’ll probably need to do it many, many more. By the time we get to the fifth version, we might not even recognize it. Knowing that it will need to be updated in the future helps us understand how to build flexibility into it in the present.

3. Learn from mistakes — then build from them

Every time a breach happens or new tech takes a turn and is used in a malicious way, we learn something. We learn how to secure better, we learn to ask better questions about the information applications collect (e.g., what will this app do with this image of my face once it shows me what I’ll look like when I’m old?) — and we learn how to build in a way that prevents those things from occurring in the future.

4. Stop inventing everything yourself

Don’t try to solve authentication, cryptography, or security yourself. Employ reusable frameworks because they can be swapped out for better components as they become available in the future. Thinking modularly will pay off thousandfold and your solution is likely to be better from using existing technology. Otherwise, you’ll be locked into an outdated aspect of your app or experience.

5. Don’t wait for regulation to lead

Typically, regulation tends to follow security concerns by about 10 years. First the innovators protect themselves and their customers, all the way down the line to the late adopters. And then regulation comes in, which means the issues we face today won’t be fully regulated for at least another decade. We can’t wait until security is mandated to properly secure the web and our apps. It’ll be too late.

Ready for the next 30 years?

For the web to thrive another 30 years, web builders the world over must take action. They must unite to engineer a more secure and resilient web on a more trustworthy network, and more predictable and performant applications. Scalable, secure innovation is vital to the web’s ability to progress and succeed in the future —  but we need to embrace new approaches to get there. It’s entirely possible, and it’s up to us

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