The Evolving Web: An AEC Perspective

I still remember the first time I searched for anything on the internet. I have no idea what I searched, but I recall how I performed the search.  It was while visiting a friend in Marin County, CA, a few miles north of the hotbed of many budding technology companies on which we would soon become reliant.I recall the web search so well because it was a paper-based search. It was 1994 and the search “engine” was a 400+ page book called The Internet Yellow Pages!

Internet Yellow Pages

Perhaps there’s something that better exemplifies the static nature of the early world wide web in the 1990’s, but this physical directory of website listing stands for me as the best example. The goal of website owners (AEC website owners in particular) during this “Web 1.0” phase was to create a digital land-grab for their analog and physical services. There was little (if any) flow of information from the website visitor back to the website owner. The lack of interaction resulted in a completely static mode of marketing. The early web was a one-way promotion and marketing tool, not too different than placing an advertisement in a magazine or on a billboard.  While the website itself was editable by the site author, the ability to contribute content on a site was limited to the original and authorized website publisher alone. This was effectively the “readable” phase of the Web.

AIA - 1996

In the building, design and construction industry, sites were primarily brochure repositories. Product manufacturers used their website as a digital compliment to their brick-and-mortar sales and marketing model. Architects, engineers or construction companies (those who even had a website in the ‘90s) typically provided little more than contact information, a few photos of their portfolio and the mission statement of their pre-Internet era company.

Winco - 1998

Although some leading AEC firms did a good job leveraging early HTML to design a complete site, most firms had basic graphics, a bit of text and were concerned with how well their sites would load via 2400 baud modems. These, and other technical limitations lead to creative business models by AEC tech service providers in the early days of Web 1.0. Who remembers McGraw-Hill and others providing free “high-speed” modems as part of their early digital offerings? As traditional information providers moved their analog and desktop offerings to the web – their success was mixed, at best.

The Blue Book - 1997

Flash-forward only 5 years on the calendar, but a lifetime on the Internet to 1999 – the height of the dot-com boom and the beginning of the inevitable bust. Traditional AEC technology companies were investing (with irrational exuberance) in web tech as they created new products, services and independent companies. Well known and lesser-known architecture, engineering and construction companies invested in some of these start-ups and spin-offs as a new breed of would-be trading hubs and information portals emerged. Most of these extranets, portals and vertical-nets flopped, but a few of these construction collaboration providers proved more viable.

In just a few years, hundreds of millions of dollars were invested in tech companies serving AEC, many with a new approach – providing solutions using the web as a Platform. Software applications were built upon the Web as opposed to upon the desktop. Document sharing, screen sharing and content download portals became commonplace. Although very few of these companies exist today, their early work laid the foundation and set the expectation for the “writable” phase of the Web – with interactive data, bi-directional communications and the ability to transact, communicate and truly collaborate across trades & construction project stakeholders.

In the wake of the bust, as the dust settled with a few AEC dot-com survivors remaining, the term “Web 2.0” started taking hold. Although that term suggests a new version of the Internet, it does not refer to any technical update or official specification, but instead it refers to various changes in the way Web pages are made, used and interacted. Web 2.0 describes sites that allow, if not rely, on user-created content where usability and cross-site interoperability are required.

The term Web 2.0 was first coined in 1999 and made popular at the Web 2.0 Conference in 2004.  Some may insist if a website is built using a certain programming language (Java / JSQuery, Ruby on Rails or AJAX for example) or utilize certain technical architecture, it is a Web 2.0 application. While there are a variety of definitions and understanding of what constitutes a “Web 2.0 application,” most definitions requires that site visitors are able to interact with one another or contribute personalized content to the site without significant barriers.

Using this broad definition and understanding, it should be clear we are still in the middle of Web 2.0

This executable phase of the Web with dynamic applications, interactive services, and “machine-to-machine” interaction is an exciting time for any AEC practitioner seeking to eke out profits, reduce risks and communicate better with their internal and external team.  Today’s World Wide Web is still evolving – text, flat graphics and forms are still the norm.  Soon, AEC websites with interactive 3D graphics soon to be the norm.

ONETEAM - BIM

We aren’t quite at that point, nor are we seeing web-based AEC applications speak to each interpreting information like humans – but we’re close.

That’s Web 3.0 – more to come on that topic, soon.

Marc Goldman

Marc Goldman is the Director of Strategy and Product Management at The Blue Book Network. As an entrepreneur and proven leader Marc understands the potential power and frequent challenges of technologies in the Architecture, Engineering and Construction industries. He is one of the leading experts in Building Information Modeling (BIM) and its impact on the processes and business of the building design and construction industry. With over two decades of delivering products and services for Building, Construction & Manufacturing, Marc has formed, hired, managed, mentored & inspired technical sales and development teams in large organizations and startup environments. Prior to committing to a career in Building Design Technologies, Marc studied Architecture and Civil Engineering at Tulane University. He lives in Littleton, Colorado with his wife Lynne (a veterinarian), his two kids, and way too many animals.

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