The world wide web is celebrating its 20th birthday. Over the past two decades, the web has changed the way society works, plays, and interacts.
The pedant in us wants to reaffirm that this isn't the 20th anniversary of the internet as such. The internet itself is nearly 40 years old, but the web was what took it from a simple data exchange service to something that everyone could use.
When Tim Berners-Lee first decided to build a system that would allow a freer exchange of information, he really didn't know what effect his system would have on the world. No-one did, but we are only feeling the first effects of it.
This week we look back on the best that the web has brought. Beyond just one site or service, this list ranks the best ways in which people have been able to use the internet.
Shaun Nichols: Prior to the web, video was hardly a democratic medium. If you wanted to reach a large audience, you had to own a studio of some sort and have a large enough budget to distribute your creations. For the individual user, videos were more or less an archival tool to collect family memories.
The web changed that by simplifying the means of distribution. Webcam technology and services such as YouTube allowed users to become their own broadcasting station, and video was morphed into a communication tool. Video is no longer divided between home movies and studio creations, and there is a solid middle ground which has become occupied by the internet.
This has also changed the way in which studios operate. Independent filmmaking has blossomed over the web, and indie studios are in some cases eschewing theatrical and television deals to work entirely with web video.
Iain Thomson: You can point to many things web video has done, but the most important is the democratisation of online content. Twenty years ago the idea of ground breaking video was limited to what the networks would show. The footage of Rodney King getting beaten sparked the worst riots America had seen for a generation, but these days such footage is commonplace.
No longer can violent people rely on their crimes being forgotten, as they are recorded and broadcast around the world in seconds. The convergence of cheap digital media and web access have led to shared experiences that shape generations.
This goes twice for events of historical significance. Zapruder's footage of the Kennedy assassination took years to come out in its full detail, but the next one will be around the world in seconds.
Shaun Nichols: One of the most appreciated characteristics of the web is its ability to bring a good laugh. Whether it's a funny video or a nicely written piece of satire, the amount of comedy available on the web is nearly limitless.
Perhaps it's another nice side-effect of the democratisation which the internet affords, as that funny joke or witty observation you heard in the office can be posted online and exchanged with others.
The web has also allowed humour publications such as The Onion and Cracked, which were previously limited to what and where they could distribute as print copy, to expand their readership and greatly advance their content offerings.
Not everyone feels that the same things are funny, and you only have to look at the furore cause by cartoons of Mohammed to see that not everyone enjoys a giggle at the same things.
But humour is an indisputable part of human life, and the web helps export that to all. Laughter is always better than anger.
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