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The Future of the Website?

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Open seating plans, designer furniture, loft-like feel, hard-wood floors, rooms bathed in sunlight and Apple machines on every desktop. In the hi-tech worlds of digital agencies, creative consultancies and tech startups, the offices can often look and feel strikingly similar. Conversations can feel the same, too. Often I come upon questions or topics that create consistent trends across clients and random conversations, and project themes that all seem to touch on similar subjects. It happens to all of us.

Where the similarities end, however, is when you start to involve the user in the discussion, or in the case of the now-seemingly countless hip, young, digital think tanks, when you start to engage the client. There can only be one digital future, but every brand will integrate with it differently. We may all sit in the same kind of office, but how we tackle the challenges are wholly unique.

Over the last three months I've been busy working with companies ranging from sporting goods, to automotive, to film and entertainment. Early conversations always surround themes like brand and communications but increasingly morph into this idea of the digital future, and where their company fits in. It leaves many grasping for straws (and eventually fresh air).

The "web" turned 20 years old on Aug. 6, 2011. The world's first website, a placeholder page written by Tim Berners-Lee, was launched to geeky fanfare the world over, which is to say you didn't even know it happened. Twenty years later people are mourning the passing of Steve Jobs like believers would lay the Buddha to rest, while grandmas in Ohio peck away at their iPads.

Nothing competes with the digital space when it comes to shifting definitions, quick growth and quicker deaths. Two decades later, websites are unrecognizable from that first spawn. So what does the website look like in another 20? Will it continue to exist as we know it now? Evidence proves it's already shifting with tastes, patterns and behaviors.

Most brands don't have the time to worry about 20 years from now when they're merely trying to keep pace with the present, but there are people who do. So with inspiration from my clients' needs and colleagues' dreams (like Soraya Darabi's work with filmmaker Jessica Brillhart), I went in search of some answers, both practical and philosophical. This is the first in a series of three videos that came out of those conversations.

The voices in the video above provide perspectives that are key to get a full picture of the digital future. Like me, they all work with brands and digital technology. Some run consultancies, some own their own product development and strategy firms, and others are working on technology startups themselves. They all take their work home with them, out with them, to bed with them. Where brands must return focus to their products and services, these people live and breathe the exploration of the digital frontier.

I wanted to create a time capsule of this 20-year moment that could as easily go down in a nightclub as it does an office. Where are we, where will we be, and what will be be talking about when we get there?

Is ubiquitous casual computing nearly upon us, as Kevin says? Do you agree with Rex that things will only get more chaotic from here? According to Jess' prediction, will we see one app or one interface with the ability to solve all your basic human problems?

If you think this sounds like science fiction, you only have to look to this week's Apple product announcement. With the launch of the embedded personal assistant, Siri, on the new iPhone 4S this week, this starts to not sound so fanciful. You can imagine the launch of Siri version 4 in a couple years will go pretty far toward realizing this vision.

Check out the video and check their ideas against your own. It's the conversation that constantly continues. Like the Web, there appears to be no end.

One final note: as I write this, I can't help but think of the person whose company has almost singlehandedly turned the idea of what a website is on its head. From iOS, to Safari, the iPhone and the iPad, Steve Jobs' vision has forever altered the course of how we view the Web and thus forever created a new road for how we'll see information in the future. RIP, Mr. Jobs. Thanks for making all our dreams a little bigger.

You can learn more about the cool things the interviewees are doing here:
Jess Kimball, Gavin Becker, Kevin Kearney, Rex Sorgatz (in order of appearance)

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