Some two decades after reaching mainstream prominence, and the internet is bigger than it’s ever been. Wrought from equal parts genius and growing pains, the basic internet experience of browsing today is, on its surface, quite similar to how it started. However, if we take a peek beneath the surface, we can see that not everything is as meets the eye. Built on a growing foundation of evolution, the internet today is miles from that which many of us grew up with, and we want to explore what’s changed.
When you ask anyone about how the internet experience has changed over the years, you’ll tend to get one foremost answer – it’s faster. In the early days of the internet, users came from dial-up connections. The most famous of these was the 56k modem, transmitting at up to 56 Kbps. Today, the average internet speed in America sits at 14.2 Mbps or around 250 times faster.
Running parallel to this bandwidth increase are changes to computing processing power. While not typically noticed by the user, faster computing devices have allowed enormous jumps in real-time compression. Combined with far more advanced browsers, this compression technology lets each bit go much further than it used to. The result of these speed changes are pages that tend to load in 2-5 seconds, compared to the minutes that loading could take pre-2000.
Ads in the days of dial-up could be extremely problematic. In this wild-west of a free market, pop-ups were the name of the game, where loops of opening windows and auto-play sound effects were universally despised. Eventually, regulation addressed the pop-up problem, making them a far lesser issue, though other issues would then take the pop-up’s place.
The largest negative example of ads today comes from forced redirects. These auto redirect ads occur because of unsecured ad slots, into which dishonest advertisements can be injected. Often introducing fake messaged such as virus warning alerts, the forced redirect ads lead unfamiliar users down paths that can infect their device At the same time, these ads damage legitimate websites that have attempted to place genuine ads, harming their revenue and audience trust. Fortunately, safety systems for businesses can address this problem, but unless these systems become more common, the problem will persist on some level.
When the internet first arrived, we were fascinated by the opportunity to simply read text. As speeds improved, images because possible, and then commonplace. These could require significant waiting to load properly, but the system was there. Eventually, Macromedia Flash would even allow videos and interactive experiences to be enjoyed online.
Today, browsers have come so far that they essentially mirror the base potential of a computing device. Modern browsers can easily handle hundreds of images on a single page, alongside enormous videos, and vast web games that lean into a device’s GPU. Though Flash is now obsolete and largely dead, its replacements go far beyond what Flash could manage, raising the possibilities of interaction to unprecedented heights.
With such incremental change, it can be difficult to appreciate just how far the browsing experience has come. Even the slowest and most frustrating websites today are far faster than what many of us grew up with, and too often we ignore that fact. Rather than taking everything for granted, consider taking a step back from time to time to marvel at browsing as it exists today. You’re in the future, and you’re allowed to appreciate that fact.