Sally Jenkinson on 20 years of web evolution

As part of net magazine's 20th birthday celebrations, the technical consultant reflects on the last two decades of web design.

Sally Jenkinson

Sally Jenkinson is a technical consultant based in Colchester, UK whose clients have included the BBC, Nokia, EA, Inghams, and the Open Data Institute. She aims to get people talking and thinking about technology in a creative way, and to use it to enhance experiences.

As part of net magazine's 20th birthday celebrations, we've been asking the great and the good for their thoughts on the last two decades in web design. Here's what Jenkinson had to say – and to hear from industry leaders such as Jeffrey Zeldman, Eric Meyer and John Allsopp, don't miss the special anniversary issue of net magazine, on sale now!

What were you doing 20 years ago when net magazine launched?

I was nine and living in Jakarta, in Indonesia. I went to an amazing school where I was able to use computers from around age five, but by age nine we also had a home PC.

There was a lot of fear around the computer, and I was constantly scared of breaking it. I remember that we weren't allowed to use it for the entirety of certain days, because my parents had been informed that if we turned it on, it would get a virus. I don't think it was even hooked up to the phone line. Either there was a lot of misinformation at the time, or my parents were masters of manipulation.

At this point I used the computer mainly for drawing, playing games, and typing stories. I hadn't yet realised that there was a whole world of programming out there, but I had become a bit of a whizz with DOS in the process of loading up games (which I subsequently got worse at over the next 20 years).

What have been the landmark changes for you over the last 20 years?

It's easy to pick out notable milestones such as the public adoption of Google, the release of the iPhone, or the rise and fall of individual technologies. However I think the most important thing for me has been much more subtle.

It's been about changing attitudes - recognising the importance of standards, of making things more accessible, open, and easy to use, coupled with our increasing desire to share with others. This has gradually made the internet a much more welcoming place to those who aren't techies, and has encouraged them to start becoming creators as well as consumers.

What's the best things web design has brought the world?

The ability to learn everything and anything, and friends. Even 10 years ago there was something slightly taboo about having made friends with people on the web, but I love that it's socially acceptable nowadays to have friendships with people all over the world that you may never meet in person.

Has it all been improvements, or is there anything we've lost along the way?

Apart from reintroducing mixtapes as a method of communication, I definitely wouldn't swap the technology and web that we have now for those of 20 years ago.

I don't think that the internet has directly caused anything to get lost along the way, but I do think that it has helped to facilitate certain pre-existing human behaviour to get worse.

What do you hope the web will look like 20 years from now?

I really hope that we continue to focus on pushing inclusivity over the next 20 years, and that topics around privacy vs openness, collaboration, accessibility, and standards don't fall by the wayside.

But that doesn't really matter, because we'll all be hooked up to the hive mind, working to serve our robot overlords. There will likely still be kitten gifs.

Buy the 20th anniversary edition of net magazine today!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tom May is a freelance writer and editor specialising in design and technology. He was previously associate editor at Creative Bloq and deputy editor at net magazine, the world’s best-selling magazine for web designers. Over two decades in journalism he’s worked for a wide range of mainstream titles including The Sun, Radio Times, NME, Heat, Company and Bella. Follow him on Twitter @tom_may.