I was listening to American Public Radio’s On the Media yesterday, which is how I heard about a recent Wired story titled, The Web Is Dead. Long Live the Internet.
The Web…dead? Why wasn’t I notified??
Chris Anderson and Michael Wolff make two key points in their article. The first one (which I initially violently opposed) is the differentiation of the “web” versus the “internet.” The former is defined in the article as sort of an online destination which you arrive at via a Web browser. The latter is the hardwired (or wireless) network that you use to get to that destination. But what if…(cue threatening music here)…the destination changes? What if suddenly people use the Internet to get to very different, non-web destinations?
That brings me to the second point Mr. Anderson and Mr. Wolff hammer away at and what spurred the title of the article. That is, the notion that the web is “in decline” because of the proliferation of devices and entry points that are not accessible via browsers (e.g., web-based applications, password protected communities and non-html content, among other things).
One could argue that most password-protected content is accessible via browser, just not via a crawling spider. One could also argue that there’s a symbiotic relationship between services like Google, which searches for, indexes and links to content, and services like the New York Times (or Wired) which create content. But I guess that doesn’t address the issue of huge collections of pages that cannot be indexed (like Facebook) because they are “gated.”
But let’s all see if we can agree on what exactly the WEB is before we start digging its grave. I’ll defer to Wikipedia, my go to source for everything (which is how I KNOW that Henry VIII was obese by the time he married Anne of Cleves in spite of what Showtime would have me believe). Take it away, Wikipedia:
“The World Wide Web, abbreviated as WWW and commonly known as the Web, is a system of interlinked hypertext documents accessed via the Internet. With a web browser, one can view web pages that may contain text, images, videos, and other multimedia and navigate between them by using hyperlinks.” Source: Wikipedia
Okay, so maybe I was wrong about defining the Web as the infrastructure itself. It does appear that the Web is a bunch of HTML pages which we navigate to via a web browser. But something is bothering me here. The article’s premise that the web is in decline is based on the fact that people are moving away from the browser and the ‘open web” in favor of devices like the iPad and smartphones. But aren’t these devices essentially portable computers? Don’t they all come equipped with browsers? Why would these new devices have browsers if no one is navigating the open web anymore?
Ha! see how I did that? Gotcha Wired!
I don’t think we’ll ever completely move away from hypertext pages. I do think we’re (rapidly) expanding beyond HTML. I also think the barrier of entry isn’t as high as the Wired article implies. Back in 1998 I would’ve killed for an application like Drupal (for example) which enables me to build and update my web site with very (very) little programming knowledge.
But let’s see what Wikipedia has to say about the Internet:
“The Internet is a global system of interconnected computer networks that use the standard Internet Protocol Suite (TCP/IP) to serve billions of users worldwide. It is a network of networks that consists of millions of private, public, academic, business, and government networks of local to global scope that are linked by a broad array of electronic and optical networking technologies.” Source: Wikipedia
Gentemen, so far you’re right and my violent opposition is based on the wrong assumption that the Internet and the Web are one and the same.
Still, is the Web really dead?
It seems like an oversight to say that apps (wireless or otherwise) are taking over from the browser-based “wide open” web. To my point above, what is a browser, if not an app?
I open my browser, I point to Google, I do a search – and I get a list of results. It works, I’m happy, I don’t care if the site I go to is programmed in HTML or if it was somehow cobbled together with fairy dust and magical beans (my programming language of choice). I’ll say this once, but I’ll try to be clear – only those of us immersed in the world of media, online media, and the “Web” give a crap about what content Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs own.
The wireless apps and subscription-based services that people are spending so much time on (e.g,. Facebook), are probably taking market share away from web sites like Google, but Google is also beginning to gnaw at its own confinement. Why, just the other day I saw it on my Android phone!
BUT let me continue down the road of walled online communities stealing online markets before something shiny distracts me. In the old days, we used to call online market share “eyeballs.” No one cared that the web sites themselves were sort of crap, they just cared that people were spending time on them so they could serve up ads (in the form of really ugly banners). Have you ever studied a Facebook page? I mean, really looked at it compared with a well-thought out web page like Amazon’s or Zappo’s home page (for example). Zappos, you know I love you.
Well, if you have spent any time looking at a Facebook page, then you’ll pretty much agree with me that it looks like someone threw up all the contents of their hard drive onto that page. Do advertisers care that Facebook pages are a veritable testament to bad design and ADD? No, they do not. They care that people’s eyeballs are on the page. There’s not just an inordinate amount of useless content posted by Facebook’s growing base of 500 million users, there’s also lots to do on the site.
According to Facebook, “There are over 900 million objects that people interact with (pages, groups, events and community pages) ”
Okay, awesome – 900 million is a very large number. Google can’t claim to have 900 million pages, can it? Oh hang on…if a search results page is considered an actual page, then Google gets 3 BILLION (with a “B”) searches per day.
Should we debate the merit of a search results page with the merit of a Facebook “object” in terms of the value each one offers? If we’re an advertiser, then probably not because all we care about is that people are there and we need someplace to display our ads.
If we’re talking about the death of the Web then we should because, bottom line, neither “destination” provides any real information. Rather, they are both conduits to more in-depth content. So, just like you wouldn’t want Google to index your web site until it was complete and had some actual meat within its pages, you really don’t want to put up a Facebook page unless you have some kind of content strategy to in mind with which to leverage that page. Does Google need to index that Facebook page? Not really – not if it’s linking to a public web page that has the actual content on it. Which brings us back to the open web…
So what does this mean for users? And what of all this talk of apps, and walled networks replacing the open web and Mr. Wolff’s hero-worshiping of Steve Jobs and Apple?
Here’s what I think – there’s enough room for all of this stuff, and people aren’t going to abandon Google in favor of Facebook or their favorite iPad app that allows them to do one thing (e.g., navigate somewhere, find a local pizza joint, track their cardio workout, etc.) People are still going to search for things on the “open web” and we are going to continue to embrace the wireless web in a way that we couldn’t ten years ago because technology is changing.
I actually think what’s happening now is more the convergence of traditional media via the Internet rather a supplanting of open content (e.g, HTML pages) by traditional media. So what do I have to say about that? Welcome, Hulu and iTunes and Netflix and Pandora. Thanks for joining us! Please stop hogging my bandwidth because my daughter needs to spend some time researching the origins of chocolate on Google this evening.
I’m just saying…
I also think the idea of a closed environment – of going back to the old days of media moguls and big Hollywood studios who control everything, will come back to shoot Steve Jobs and Apple in the foot. Because not all of us like to be forced into closed applications like iTunes – this is precisely why I invested in an Android phone (which required me to switch my wireless provider which was a big P.I.A). And let me just state, for the record, that I adored my ipod touch and miss it terribly.
The scenario of waking up in the morning and going from app to app to app without interacting with the “open web” is a false one. At least for me, and just about everyone I now.
Yes, I may wake up and check my email on my Droid phone, listen to Pandora as I wash the dishes, listen to my Rachel Maddow podcast as I drive to work, chat on Skype before digging into my pile of Monday a.m. tasks, etc. etc. But I also spend a few minutes each morning browsing Google News to see what’s going on in the world, searching actively for things I’m interested in (e.g., a new netbook for my 9-year-old) and, yes, browsing the open web to see what the hell Snooki is up to lately.
Applications existed before the ipad and they will exist after it – we’ll just be accessing them via a chip implanted in our heads which will make the ipad look like a stone tablet. We’ll all laugh about how we used to carry devices OUTSIDE of our bodies! But to claim that the web is dead and that (the horror!) we all WANT it to die because it’s just so much easier letting our ipads, ipods and iphones do all the work is underestimating the resolve of a lot of people out there who love to produce and consume real content.
The open web has spoken. Over and out.