As Long As There Are Links, The Web Will Live

    August 19, 2010
    Chris Crum

An article from Wired caught a lot of attention this week when it proclaimed that the Web is dead. Obviously, this is a sensational headline and a perfect example of linkbait, but it worked. It received the attention it was looking for, and it is still an interesting and thought-provoking read, though the web is far from dead. 

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A lot of the criticism over the article deals with a traffic chart it presents, and how misleading it is, but I don’t want to focus on that. That’s been ripped apart enough. look at some of the things author Chris Anderson and Michael Wolff say.

The article says, "Two decades after its birth, the World Wide Web is in decline, as simpler, sleeker services — think apps — are less about the searching and more about the getting."

This to me is more a declaration that search is dead or dying, which it is not. There will never be enough "getting" to eliminate all searching. There will always be specific needs that arise, which will require searching, and while the apps we use to do that search may be becoming more diversified, there will still be a need for that one all-encompassing gateway to search (which happens to currently be Google for the majority of people).  Not to mention the fact that we’ll need to search for the apps themselves.

I’ve talked about this diversification of search numerous times. What it boils down to is that people will not stop using search engines, they will just use them less for certain kinds of searches if they have an app that they like for that particular kind of information. This is already happening.

The article says, "Ecommerce continues to thrive on the Web, and no company is going to shut its Web site as an information resource. More important, the great virtue of today’s Web is that so much of it is noncommercial. The wide-open Web of peer production, the so-called generative Web where everyone is free to create what they want, continues to thrive, driven by the nonmonetary incentives of expression, attention, reputation, and the like. But the notion of the Web as the ultimate marketplace for digital delivery is now in doubt."

I would say, not really. How long has search been that "ultimate marketplace"? Isn’t this again, basically saying that search (not the web) is dying (which again it’s not)?

It comes down to access points and how we get our information, which threatens to reduce time spent with search, but will not eliminate it. That reduced time, is perhaps why Google really needs this "Google Me" thing to work (though we still don’t really know what this will consist of). The more apps or access points that connect you to a Google profile, the more Google can make up for that reduced time you spend searching It makes a case for that newfound interest in social games), and it certainly makes a case for why Google provides mobile ads across third-party apps.

This is all something that businesses really need to consider. If all of your eggs are in the search marketing basket, you better really start thinking about mobile and apps. Google is still a major factor here. In fact, this is very connected to Google’s recent emphasis on Places, which it has effectively turned into its own mobile app. Notice that other Google features have their own apps as well.

Google Places Icon - Launch from homescreen

All of that said, search itself will always be an app. In fact it’s usually more than that. Search is its own hard key on your phone – maybe as important an app as the browser.

A Web of Links

Clearly apps are becoming a bigger part of our lives, and may continue to dominate more of our web access, but we’re still connecting with the greater web, and the browser is certainly far from dead.

Many of the apps we use are just different ways of presenting the web’s information, and ultimately utilize links to other parts of the web. Sometimes, they even take us out of the apps and into the browser. Think about links from feed readers, Twitter, Facebook, Digg, etc. If you read a blog post, starting from some feed-reading app, and you click on a link to another post from that original post, you’re clicking through one of the web’s many paths. As long as content is connected to other content through links, the web will remain alive and well. Many of the most popular apps strongly depend on links to outside content to keep user interest. How popular do you think Facebook or Twitter would be if you couldn’t link to outside content?

We will see more convergence of the browser and the OS (iOS, Android, Chrome OS, etc.), particularly as data moves more into the cloud, but this is all just the evolution of browsing the web. Never mind the fact that the majority of PCs are far from coming with a web-based operating system at this point. This could change one day, but even then, see the above points. Desktop versions (aka: websites) of many of the apps we use are far more efficient and feature-rich than their mobile app counterparts, which is why people will continue to use those as well.

The article says, "Openness is a wonderful thing in the nonmonetary economy of peer production. But eventually our tolerance for the delirious chaos of infinite competition finds its limits. Much as we love freedom and choice, we also love things that just work, reliably and seamlessly. And if we have to pay for what we love, well, that increasingly seems OK." To that same point, it also says, "As much as we intellectually appreciate openness, at the end of the day we favor the easiest path. We’ll pay for convenience and reliability, which is why iTunes can sell songs for 99 cents despite the fact that they are out there, somewhere, in some form, for free."

There is some truth to this, which certainly lends to the fact that apps are indeed popular channels for accessing content. However, that by no means eliminates the web browser for accessing content that apps simply don’t cater to. The web browser is an app, and probably the app that trumps all other apps because of that openness and freedom of choice. When you don’t want to pay for convenience, the web browser will often come through. When there isn’t a known app for what you want, the web browser will often come through.

Michael Arrington at TechCrunch makes another great point: "Apps are great on mobile phones with small screens. But they are a pain to install and keep synchronized. Eventually having less local software will make sense on phones, too. All you really need is that browser virtual machine and you can pull everything else from the cloud. This is obvious."

In fact, the article itself says, "If a standard Web browser can act like an app, offering the sort of clean interface and seamless interactivity that iPad users want, perhaps users will resist the trend to the paid, closed, and proprietary."

It’s entirely possible that these mobile apps are the "shiny objects" of the moment, and eventually users will find that they just have too many of them to keep track of on their phones, and rather than fill up their storage, will just access more of them through their web versions via the web browser.

Is the web dying? Is search? You tell us.