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> Sometimes I think back and ask myself if all of this progress in web standards has really got us anywhere. > What can we do now that couldn't be done 20 years ago (putting aside connection speed) and is all of this progress really worth the trouble.

Well let's see if we can make a short list:

1) Can I look up almost anything? Yes [0]

2) Can I learn a foreign language for free? Yes [1]

3) Can I fund something interesting? Yes [2]

4) Can I communicate with my family and friends for free? Yes [3]

5) Can I learn stuff for free? Yes [4]

Seriously I didn't even try, yes progress has got us somewhere. Admittedly we do now have n+1 standards

[0] http://wikipedia.org

[1] http://duolingo.com

[2] http://kickstarter.com

[3] Honestly there are so many - email, skype, facebook, whatsapp, etc ...

[4] http://khanacademy.com

edit - edited

As others said, all that could be done in the 90s modulo the bandwidth (specifically important for Khan Academy). But we don't even have to go back that far to get broken sites. IE 8 (released in 2009), forced on many corporate workers, is unable to render many "modern" sites. Some specific examples that I've encountered: Lifehacker & kin - multiple content blocks overlapping, rendering the main content unreadable; NPR - home page totally broken, can't get to different news categories; GigaOM - ARTICLES ARE PRESENTED IN ALL CAPS FOR NO GOOD REASON, AS IF THE AUTHOR WANTED TO SHOUT AT ME FOR USING SUCH AN OLD BROWSER.

And your 4) we could do that in the 90s as well. Email isn't a 21st century invention and doesn't depend on web technologies. Same with instant messengers. Skype - for video, bandwidth is the thing the 90s lacked to support this system. WhatsApp - widespread mobile devices was necessary for this, 90s lacked that. And none of them, other than Facebook, is wholly dependent on web stuffs, they're internet technologies and platforms.

Which of those wasn't possible in 1995 with a modern Internet connection? I posit that everything you describe would have been entirely possible with a little less polished appearance 15-20 years ago and that there could be real strong value in starting over and keeping things simple.

Duolingo - because it's not just me learning Spanish, it's us translating English only websites to Spanish. Perhaps I'm not versed enough in the services available in '94 - I didn't really start to use the internet much until college when I got access to the computer labs. Was there something like it around then? I say this because the most impressive thing to me about duolingo ( and the captcha system designed by its founder before it ) is the efficient way to leverages different individual goals to aggregate really large differences for both individuals. Ie the person wanting to learn a new language for free and the person with an English only website that needs to get it translated into multiple languages.

I presume the point is not what was already built but what was possible: Wikis have existed for a very long time, and nothing about Wikipedia seems difficult to do with very old versions of Netscape.

Also, email and IRC were available before HTTP/HTML, so people were definitely able to communicate over the Internet, in realtime or otherwise, even before they were viewing Web pages.

Indeed all those sites mentioned are just manifestations of an idea that is really independent of any "progress in web standards", and had someone thought of the idea 20 years ago, they could've just as easily (or maybe even more easily - because of the relative lack of complexity back then) set up a site for it.

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