It’s easy to feel like all the big moments the internet has to offer, from the first web browser to the first high-quality consumer smartphone, are behind us. The last year, however, was filled with major developments that show the internet continues to have lots of new innovations to serve up. Here are three of the biggest changes that made the entire internet simply better over the last year.
Everything is Connected
While the Internet of Things has been a marketing term who’s moment had always seemed to be just across the horizon, the last year was when IoT finally started to show up everywhere. Farmers are connecting internet-ready tracking devices to dairy cows! If an industry as old as animal husbandry is getting on board with a trend, you can bet consumers have gotten in on it, too. Residential smart systems broke out big, with customers connecting their thermostats, home theaters and security cameras to everything from their phones to their cars. With an IoT boom taking place across a variety of sectors, prices also came down significantly, leading to a massive feedback loop likely to carry the trend well into the next decade.
Alongside this massive uptick in connected devices has come a treasure trove of data. Analytics platforms exploded in popularity during the last year, with everyone from retailers to helicopter parents getting in on the action. To process all this new information, an entire generation of software has emerged, such as Google BigQuery. Naturally, these solutions are often cloud-based, making them widely accessible and easily scalable.
Big data is also beginning to go much smaller. Insights systems built into common software packages, such as Intuit’s widely used QuickBooks package, are now helping tiny, family-owned businesses run their operations with the lethal efficiency of major multinational corporations. It may not seem like a big deal that the car wash king of your rural county is making more bank, but these developments can make a massive difference in the survival of small businesses that have often been the losers in the internet revolution.
The trends attached to IoT, big data and analytics are now beginning to approach critical mass. By 2020, it’s anticipated there will be more than five internet-connected devices for every person on the planet. This means even more data will be collected, studied and utilized to make the modern world an awesome place to live.
The World Went Mobile
In 2017, the world finally became more dependent on mobile devices than desktops and laptops. The trend so quickly became dominant that Google’s indexing system now prioritizes mobile-ready web pages over more traditional ones in search results. More users than ever before have access to 4G networks, allowing them to be less dependent on access to nearby Wi-Fi hotspots. Interest in rolling out 5G networks has grown, and it’s clear that the future of the internet is going to be vastly more mobile than ever before.
Adaptation to a more mobile world has empowered businesses in a number of ways. CEOs now have access to real-time analytics dashboards from company smartphones. Employees can now whip out their phones during a slow period at work to bang through learning modules. It’s completely normal for a buyer in China to expect immediate inventory updates from retail customers on the other side of the planet because people at both ends are using tablets and smartphones to convey data.
Everyone is International Now
At some point in 2017, it became perfectly normal for people to start discussing TV shows from countries they’d have never dreamed about even two years. Not long ago, the flow of culture was largely one-way, emanating out from Hollywood into the rest of the world. With the exception of Japanese anime and the occasional Italian or French cinematic masterpiece, very little cultural exchange really occurred. Anyone with a Netflix account has seen, and perhaps even participated in, the German television renaissance that’s being fueled by access to major streaming services. Instead of waiting for an Americanized version of a show like House of Cards, viewers are increasingly going straight to the source. It’s suddenly hip for Americans to talk about Korean dramas, Mexican telenovelas and British sitcoms.
This massive flow of cultural exchange facilitated by the internet is seen far outside of the TV world. The internationalization of music is at a level never witnessed before, with people in the global north now listening to the freshest songs coming out of places like Nigeria. Where artists once had to luck into a record label taking an interest in their culture, such as the popularization of reggae by Island Records in the 1970s, now they can get on Spotify and YouTube in less than a day.
It’s hard to discuss any of these three topics without quickly ending up making mention of one of the others. One leads to the other, as evidenced when you realize that, for example, streaming TV services are using big data systems to study the increasingly internationalized audience that’s watching programming on all those interconnected devices. There’s a good chance these compounding effects will reverberate far into the next decade.
The major internet revolution that hit in the last year was the product of a number of technologies coming into full maturity. 4G cell phone networks are now available to much of the world’s population. High-speed internet access is so ubiquitous that people are increasingly upset with anything less than enough bandwidth to stream 4K video to their TV, phone and laptop. IoT monitoring systems have become small and cheap enough that they can be deployed without fear of incurring major costs from losing them. Consumers and businesses are also beginning to awaken to the massive potential the internet offers, and that means even bigger things are likely soon to come.