Propylon turns 20: a review of technology advancements over the last 20 years

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Propylon turns 20: a review of technology advancements over the last 20 years

This year, we’re celebrating Propylon’s 20th anniversary as a leading company in legislative and regulatory software solutions. To mark this milestone, our #20years blog series takes a deeper look at what’s led to the growth and success of the company over the last two decades. This time, we’re reeling in the years by taking a quick look back at some of the major technology changes that have occurred and what impact they’ve had on the evolving technological landscape.

By Sean McGrath
By Sean McGrathPropylon's Chief Technical Officer


1999 marked the beginning of the transition away from dial-up for online services to the “always on” technological world we’re used to now, thanks to the onset of wifi and cellular broadband networks powering connectivity to smartphones. This extra connectivity and speed has given way to the rise of bulkier data formats such as digital audio (MP3) and the runaway success of video. Video has mostly subsumed audio and is now increasingly edging out traditional text as a means of communication in the form of Youtube, Facebook video, Vimeo and so on. Just think how many web “pages” today are mostly video and images, as opposed to text – it is quite a contrast to 20 years ago!

Advancements in technology


Back in 1999, the dominant concept of an online presence was to have your own website domain. Today, many individuals and businesses exist online “hosted” inside social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Youtube. Moreover, these are “free” with the proviso that the hosting entity can get to use your content in various ways. The days of the internet address “gold rush” of 20 years ago are a distant memory now. Instead, having a presence on the main social media platforms has become synonymous with being “on” the internet.


Twenty years ago, instant messaging was only starting to take off after AOL bought ICQ and began to grow exponentially. Today it has become ubiquitous and chat is typically integrated with video – through the likes of Google Hangouts, Skype, GotoMeeting and so on. Today the concept of an online meeting is revolutionizing many transactions that used to involve face-to-face time – everything from medical consultations to online education!


In 1999, Linux was making noise as an exemplar of the excellent results that are possible when a passionate community forms around a software problem. 1999 was the year that Eric Raymond’s essay “The Cathedral and the Bazaar” became required reading material for many IT people seeking to understand the open source trend. Over the last 20 years, Linux has become fantastically successful – although most of it is behind the scenes, either because it is branded as something else or because it is embedded inside something else.

It is estimated that about 90 percent of the cloud computing workload today runs on Linux and about 60% of all embedded systems – from Android phones to Amazon AWS to WIFI routers and smart TVs –  are Linux-based. Add to that the fact that Apple MacOS is a close cousin of Linux and it is fair to say that the modern day children of the original AT&T Unix are thriving. Linux – in the form of Ubuntu  – has even found its way into Windows 10.


Getting answers to developer questions now is a lot different to 20 years ago. Back in 1999, as a developer working with a particular technology, the first port of call for support and education was books. “Does O’Reilly have a book on that?” was a commonly heard question. Today, the market for technical books still exists but a lot of day-to-day “look-up-the-answer” activity in the IT world has taken the form of forums such as Reddit and Stack Overflow.


The last two decades have seen more and more applications to be fully standalone. Even if an application does not need to be connected to some cloud infrastructure to run, it is likely that it does need to be connected for backups, updates or upgrades. The term “cloud” is increasingly used for bundled services that are, in effect, modules of other applications. The power and complexity of some modern application modules, for example, AI and NLP, are such that it is not feasible to run them locally. Instead, applications integrate with them and need to be able to “talk” to them in real time. The upside of course is the tremendous power these modules can bring. The downside is that the availability of an application as a whole is increasingly tied to the availability of the cloud services it connects to.


Back in 1999, it was possible to answer the question “what version are you running?” when speaking about individual applications or operating systems. Today, the concept of “version” has become more fluid and in some cases has disappeared completely. For example, what version of Google search are you using? The question doesn’t make sense because The Google search service is a living thing that is constantly changing – either in terms of the executing code itself or the data set being searched. The same thing applies to a lot of desktop applications these days, with many applications automatically checking for updates every time they run.


Twenty years ago, the most common form of digital document collaboration in the enterprise was the network drive. Typically documents were moved around folder structures to indicate workflow steps and informal communications, such as email, used to coordinate activity. This time-honored method is still common and increasingly takes advantage of the cloud equivalent of network drives. However, today, there are numerous project management and collaboration platforms that formalize and centralize what used to be ad hoc emails about workflow coordination. In addition, many of these platforms include the ability for team members to collaborate online in document editing sessions. This is perhaps the most significant development in document collaboration since desktop word processors pioneered the concept of track changes.


Online commerce was just starting to go mainstream but from a technical perspective, it evolved very rapidly in a way that few had predicted. Back in 1999, a lot of the initial focus was on internet security (in particular PKI) and standards for the exchange of classic e-commerce documents such as purchase orders and invoices. Today, HTTPS is ubiquitous as a symbol of security and many e-commerce scenarios take place without as much extra security infrastructure as was being envisaged in 1999. In part, this comes down to the role of credit cards, which allows vendors to transfer some counterparty risk. This is particularly evident in the commerce of items that fit within the typical range of personal credit card limits, such as Amazon.


Dramatic developments in technology over the past 20 years have rapidly accelerated growth and advancement across all industries and sectors, not least in the legislative space. Our legislative management solutions embody these technological improvements with tools that facilitate more efficient and accurate processes than those that were available 20 years ago. We continue to utilize new technologies to bridge the gap between respecting time-honored procedures and enhancing those processes through innovation.


2019-07-23T08:04:31+00:00 Featured, Insights|

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