Will Apps Unravel the World Wide Web?

Wikipedia Founder Jimmy Wales: The Danger is Real and It's Happening Now

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The title we went with on this article may come off as a bit sensational, but some pretty high profile web veterans might not think so. 

Speaking at Bristol University in the UK, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, had some less than positive things to say this week about the direction the web is taking – the app direction. As quoted by computing.co.uk:

"The debate is a highly overblown issue," said Wales in a response to question about his personal view of net neutrality. "A lot of the things that people are afraid of are in reality a long way from happening. The real threat comes from the apps model."

Jimmy Wales, Founder of Wikipedia About Apps as a DangerOn the open internet anyone can develop software and give it away or sell it. "But in the apps model, you have to get Apple’s permission," said Wales. "That choke point is very dangerous. It’s not theoretical like a network operator potentially shutting out Skype, it’s real and it’s happening now."

The words somewhat echo a recent report from the inventor of the web himself – Tim Berners-Lee. Here’s a sample from that:

In contrast, not using open standards creates closed worlds. Apple’s iTunes system, for example, identifies songs and videos using URIs that are open. But instead of "http:" the addresses begin with "itunes:," which is proprietary. You can access an "itunes:" link only using Apple’s proprietary iTunes program. You can’t make a link to any information in the iTunes world—a song or information about a band. You can’t send that link to someone else to see. You are no longer on the Web. The iTunes world is centralized and walled off. You are trapped in a single store, rather than being on the open marketplace. For all the store’s wonderful features, its evolution is limited to what one company thinks up.

Other companies are also creating closed worlds. The tendency for magazines, for example, to produce smartphone "apps" rather than Web apps is disturbing, because that material is off the Web. You can’t bookmark it or e-mail a link to a page within it. You can’t tweet it. It is better to build a Web app that will also run on smartphone browsers, and the techniques for doing so are getting better all the time.

Smartphone usage continues to skyrocket. Usage of the iPhone in particular is about to as it comes to Verizon. And of course 2011 is the year of the tablet as iPads continue to sell well and all of its competitors come to the market – many powered by App market places. 

In other words, don’t expect the app model being criticized by these guys to go away anytime soon. Berners-Lee’s report also criticized social networks like Facebook for walling off data, which is part of the same issue – a fragmented web, which could hardly be considered a web at all in the traditional sense of the word. 

The first definition of "web" listed in Google’s definition results is "an intricate network suggesting something that was formed by weaving or interweaving". While there is certainly plenty of room for interweaving within the app model, there is also plenty of room for disconnecting. Of course, when you take the second definition Google provides for "web" perhaps the web is in no danger at all: "an intricate trap that entangles or ensnare its victim."

There are a lot of great apps. There’s a reason the web is going in this direction, but will we reach a point where the apps that are supposed to bring more convenience to our lives end up creating an incredible inconvenience? Many of us are bound to reach that point repeatedly. 

Luckily, the web as we know it is still here too. It’s not really going anywhere, and is readily available from all of our smartphones, tablets, and connected device. It’s just that more of the innovation and development may go to serve these fragmented ecosystems rather than focus on the web itself. 

News Corp. is getting ready to release its latest publication called The Daily. Want to read subscribe? I hope you have an iPad.

More discussion on our Facebook page.

Will Apps Unravel the World Wide Web?
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  • http://avoidwork.com Jason

    “Apps” are just clients. clients can be a browser, a native app on a new platform, a service, etc.

    Just because one company has a well defined sandbox with a hardware platform to go with it, doesn’t mean the web is in danger.

    Options are good. Being scared of options means you’re dated.

    ps, I only visit (almost daily) Wikipedia on my iPhone.

    • Chris Crum

      Options are great, which is why it would be nice to have all of the options, no matter which operating system or device you’re using.

  • Guest

    We should make apps illegal, they’re killing our society. The Internet too, it’s dumb.

    • Guest

      society was dead anyway when they flooded music with popstars, hollywood stopped making good films and culture was killed off. technology at least saved the old stuff for free to look at. without culture there is no society, just a bunch of people moaning about recession with no guts to go after the real criminals just sit on the other side of a computer and whinge

  • Adsense Publisher

    Chris Crum,

    Most of the time I think you are spot on, but this time you’re way off.

    Don’t you think that Google will be indexing app content as well eventually?
    Most apps have API’s that allow people to connect with them outside of their applications.

    Or have you not tweeted on the web and on your smart phone?

    Tweets are now indexed by Google. Imagine that?
    So how did twitter hurt the web? How did it shut other people out?

    For the first time, the software creators are there to say, “Google, if you want my data, you’re going to have to ask for it.”

    So I applaud what itunes is doing. If they put it on the web, and even told the bots to stay away, Apple knows the information is too valuable to just put it out there and trust the bots to do what they are told to do. I put a “noindex,nofollow” tag on this calendar we have hosted on our server that was written in .asp because after several years of not having a robots meta tag on the million or so pages it virtually creates, Google decided to start indexing those pages. So after I put the meta tag, Google de-indexed those pages and then a week later started indexing them again. So much for telling the bot “NO!”

    • Chris Crum

      Google does index apps already. That’s beside the point.

      Many services do offer APIs, which can be used across a wide variety of applications, and that is great too. Twitter’s actually a great example of what does work in this environment. They have Twitter.com and APIs that third-parties can use in their own apps to make their apps better. Twitter also has apps across the multiple smartphone operating systems, though it took them a long time to get there.

      Not all developers are going to follow the Twitter example. There are a lot of iPhone-only apps right now. If you you use an Android device, you can’t use them (and vice versa). So what happens if you get really used to using a certain iPhone app for years, but then decide one day you want a different device – maybe one that runs Android or a BlackBerry, and now you don’t have access to that app anymore.

      This brings us to the point Tim Berners-Lee made about developing for the web so the app can be experienced on the web browser of any connected device. Many companies do this, but not all.

      Thanks for at least usually finding value in my work :)

      • vybixa

        >>>So what happens if you get really used to using a certain iPhone app for years, but then decide one day you want a different device – maybe one that runs Android or a BlackBerry, and now you don’t have access to that app anymore.

        I think this is way below your usual standards of analysis. If you decide to have a different device, you do so in the FULL knowledge that it does not support the “Apple” app. Thus, for clarity, you have chosen NOT to use the app anymore. (I used to sleep in MY own bedroom at my father’s home, I chose to move and make a new home in the full knowledge that I would not be sleeping in MY bedroom anymore!)

        On a conceptual basis, I suppose TBL et al have a point about fragmenting the web through the app model (to a limited degree), however in the grand scheme of things (and despite the enterpreneurial genius of Apple), the web will continue to grow and remain largely an open platform. Apps, in my opinion, are an extension of the web.

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  • http://www.pickmydecor.com/ Rita

    Interesting article…And this will effect my business how? As a home decor accents retailer, we already have a ‘mobile version’ of our site, but do we now need to develop an ‘app’ for our sites?

    • vybixa

      In my opinion NOT. However, you may find that if you developed an App, this may be another route for you to market. Think Coca-Cola. They sell their wares in grocery shops but also have vending machines selling cans. Different routes to market / sell the same product.

  • paul

    Apps can never take over. It’s not possible. The idea alone is ridiculous. The power of the internet is the ability to share, find, and create information. Apps would not be used if we could not find them. You need the web for that (unless i am on an iphone and can only buy from itunes .. baaa, baaa). I think this is short sighted, that we all are sheep.. I don’t think so. I can only play paper toss just so long before i need to do something productive.. same with face book… these things are for wasting time and targeting the people that waste time. The mac was the top selling computer once too – but someone came alone with something cheaper that is not walled off.. history will repeat.

    I find it humorous that you linked over to facebook to perpetuate the issue.

  • http://www.203kforum.com Gary Nelson Smith

    … enter only by permission and by profit. There is no open door. Those business models are built on the power of information and the attempt to control it. I vote NO to closed platforms. Open Source should be the path we all walk and let the best widget (voted by the masses) win the game, not the best widget “decided by one”.

  • Guest

    Well the devs are only following the incentive of profit, they don’t have the ability to ask for 16 million to fund their operations.

    Apps are apps and the net is the net, the truth is that a new way to monetize the web was required for smaller developers-content creators to be able to survive and actually bring some innovation or even just stir up the web and force better content creation.

    I know that when I use an app that is actually a website the main reason is that the interface is made to fit the smaller screen. Most of my friends understand that and there is nothing wrong with that. iTunes is iTunes and it serves it’s purpose, it’s existence doesn’t limit my possibilities, it actually gives me more, it gave incentive for web pages to be tailored to a small screen, the previous models weren’t really working.

    If it was only ads, as we know only big names would be able to live on them. If it as paid app model companies can sustain a business with fewer customers, niches are easier to support and quality content on that niche has a better chance of being available. By trying to appeal to the mass, in order to get more clicks, you might lose focus.

    The paid app model doesn’t conflict with the web, you still use the web to promote the app and to deliver content. The web is still the place to get free information. The app is more specialized and for what you use more.

    Also if someone want’s to place a wall around their information they do so on the web too, you featured a bunch of articles on the NewYorkTimes doing exactly that.

    Finally I didn’t see any smartphone ship without a browser and if one did it wouldn’t really be a hit. Instead of looking on the bright side that consumers can finally trust developers through the trust developed by these coorporations, if this didn’t exist most apps and games we’ve seen in recent years would have never seen the light of day, some niche magazines would not exist because they can’t be sustained only through ads.

  • http://www.angles-sur-anglin.eu Oiseaux

    When I watch the hype of a new launch and the frothing of the disciples, apple reminds me of an insidious cult religion where the followers are duped into believing whatever the master (in this case Jobs) is telling them.

  • http://GigantiCo.tv Chris Grayson

    If you recall, when the iPhone launched, it only had Apple Apps on it. Apple only created the app store out of incredible demand from both sides: consumers and developers alike were demanding it. Eventually Apple caved. How soon we forget, we all forced the app store on Apple, not the other way around.

    Steve Jobs has explained why he was so reluctant to do so: Because he believed that most mobile development would eventually move to web based apps. He has said candidly on many occasions that the success of the app store continues to baffle him.

    Also, a pet peeve of mine: The endless Android vs iPhone punditry is boring. Android is not going to “win” and iPhone is not going to “win.” We are going to have a fragmented market for some time now. 12 to 18 months from now (or less) we will have iPhone, Android, Windows Phone 7, and BlackBerry splitting the US smartphone market between them. And companies can develop four times, and support updates across four platforms (or more) or they can launch more robust mobile websites. The smart-money says that any functionality that can be handled well, as a web-based app, will do the latter.

    Besides, we’ve always had desktop apps living along side the web on our desktop and laptop machines, why should anyone expect mobile computing to be any different?

    One more thing … very soon the number of networked-devices connected to the web will outnumber regular computers. And all of these, by definition, will essentially be proprietary apps with APIs.

    Jimmy Wales need to take a quaalude.

  • http://www.newtowndiscountplumbing.com Mike

    You mention Apple in this article but what about the Android marketplace? I am not an expert on this, but isn’t the Android marketplace more open and free?

    Even if it is the same as Apple, I’m not worried. The web is dictated by the users. If the users feel like they are being walled out of the web, they will move on to something else. And that place with the walls will need to adapt or die.

  • http://www.freearticlesmix.com Steve

    If the www goes away the internet will go away and lots of companies will be in trouble unless the web comesback again, I think there should be a new internet just as long we keep the www!!

  • http://www.dirtworks.net John Meshna

    I’m not worried about this. There have always been walled off areas serviced by password accounts. I see this as just another version of that. iTunes rightfully protects copyrights by doing what it’s doing and that’s a good thing. too many people. mostly young people don’t appreciate the work that goes into creating and [resenting music and grew up boot legging it and making it hard for artists to make the money they deserve.
    As far as being able to send information across apps and platforms.. maybe some one will invent and app for that.

  • http://www.tablecontrol.com Restaurant Electronic Diary

    Its interesting that many of the apps that were free for the Ihone are cahrged for on the Ipad, Apples control of the app world is disturbing.

  • David H

    I kept looking in the comments for just ONE of you smart people to GET the POINT.

    NOBODY has yet, so I will slap you awake and pour some hot coffee in your collective faces.

    This article is entitled “Will Apps Unravel the World Wide Web”?

    What does WILL mean? What does UNRAVEL mean? For those of you arguing from just beyond the points of your own noses I will slow down and speak slowly….

    APPS are no longer browser-based thingies that use the internet to connect and retrieve and send information. The web and the browser have been inextricably linked for some time. The browser has been the NUMERO UNO appliance interface for people telling their stories, showing their pictures, downloading APPS (as in generic non-Apple applications…Photoshop, etc.).

    What people are noticing who can see past the forest is that more and more money is spent by talented engineers and designers for just APPS that do not need or run on the browser which runs on the computer at home or on the mobile laptop.

    If more and more talented people start turning EXCLUSIVELY to assembling and dispersing units of information handled by PROPRIETARY APPS (apple, android, what-have-you) and LESS consequently of websites and web-based applications and video viewers, etc, this may, in time, begin to diminish the big hodge-podge we call the “web” as in WEBSITES with interactive components.

    Think of the day in the not too distant future when a whole fleet of Federal Express trucks zips through the streets of the world not with the website url, www.fedex.com printed on their trucks but, hypothetically, — app.fedex , into which the company has decided to pour its development dollars.

    Sure, you will probably find a website and search engines on the “web” but such things as online tracking will be devoted to the app.fedx address which is NOT navigable on the browser because their technology has gone too far to try to interface with browser javascript and script libraries.

    The question is….will APPS become the NEW development platform intended for mobile devices for so many companies and services that we will have 14 million APPS and no corresponding website development because the oldstyle website will be pass

    • vybixa

      David, you were way off the mark with your critique, and by a mile too!
      Apps, are and have always been (in their short lifetime) another route to market, and your Fedex example SHOULD awaken you to that fact. Just like (certain) car manufacturers who declared the web of no discernable value to their core business (they could not see a person buying a car off the web, short-sighted gits), so does the gospel of Apps rendering the web useless have similar sentiments.

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  • http://www.ppcni.com Jordan McClements

    Apps are a stop gap until everyone has good connection speeds and all web sites work well with all devices.

  • http://www.8womendream.com Catherine

    Is this really about an Internet for phones (mobile) and the Internet you access from home? I am not interested in News that is protected, because so many times I find the print news story never really tells the whole story, and since I can always turn on PBS, or go to alternate news sources I am not concerned if I don’t see anything Rupert Murdoch produces.

    I get bored if I stay on Facebook for very long – or any other place on the net that is one dimensional. And if you make it too difficult for the user, they will not participate. I cannot begin to tell you how many sites I bypass if I have to register to see content.

    I am more interested how cloud computing is going to change how we create websites and content for the Internet – I think it’s the dark horse that will really change how we use our computers in the future . . .


  • http://www.artofstorytellingshow.com Storytelling

    Capitalism is the art of privatizing the public – whether it is water, minerals, energy land or internet bandwidth. This growth of private access networks is a natural out growth of the success of the internet and desire of individual companies to own a stake in this gold rush. AS AOL and Myspace both discovered the free market punishes companies that forget how easily their customers can switch loyalties and focus in a free market system like the internet.

    The Walled gardens are the future of the internet –

  • http://www.straightalk.biz/ straightalk

    You know everyone has their opinion and that is what makes our country a great place..

    But does this question take any of your brain cells to acknowledge You are in trouble! Really dude..

    Right now as we speak, there are companies planning on HIGH tech gear to combine 3-D, Goggle Inter-action, and the WWW.

    meaning that pretty soon no one will have to even leave their homes to make a living more less to create or have an exciting adventure.. some thing just like AVATAR..

    2011 and STRAIGHTALK, Norman Flecha located in Hollywood florida just told you guys this..

    Lets see how long before launch of the super WWW… Thanks for the share nice article!

  • http://ohyawanna.com Ohyawanna

    An “app” or application can be anything. It isn’t killing the internet. It isn’t creating a closed world. These companies like Wikipedia, and others are just scared that an “app” is going to take away their business. If an “app” comes out that is a complete encyclopedia (I’d like to point out that Jimmy there stole that idea from the hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy…) then no one would visit it anymore and he wouldn’t stay a multi-millionaire. (Since hosting isn’t as expensive as he so richly claims to need millions of dollars.)

    Apps aren’t hurting anything. They run on another framework, but that framework is just like PHP, MYSQL, or ASP. The “app” connects to this other site and then feeds off the framework. There’s nothing black magic or scary about it. There shouldn’t be a witch hunt over it.

    It’s technology and tech is always expanding. Those of you who don’t embrace it and stand tall for your flawed principals will be left in the digital dust. While those who do embrace it will expand the technology. Nothing is going to be around forever. Hell, the internet isn’t the same now as it was in 1993. It’s expanded… It’s better. The internet is going to be much different in 5 years from now than it is now. You need to get used to change…

    • http://www.theanaloguerevolution.com Pete

      Hosting does cost quite a bit when you have 18 million pages and are one of the most visited sites in the world.

      I don’t think apps will kill the internet, people will get bored of downloading lots of apps, one for each website they use and realise they could just use a browser. Walled gardens always crumble away, remember AOL?

  • Guest

    What is the different between a desktop application vs iPhone App? I think it is going to eventually go back to web just like desktop application went on the web.

  • http://briarpatchgiftshop.com Joe H

    The use of apps against each other is also growing, as in itunes we do it all the time get you music thru itunes then use all the other apps to convert it such as WMP or Real Player. There is not an app out there that cannot be converted as long people stay creative and we will.

  • Guest

    I see no difference between those “separated” webs and normal websites that requires registration and restrict access only to registered users. You can’t send a link to someone else from that website unless they are registered on the website. With apps like iTunes you only need the client to access the link.

  • Danny

    I just wish they’d called apps something else, like poops, cos my little brother thought apps was short for apples, and nearly gummed my phone to bits !

    • Guest

      In the case of your phone, aren’t apples preferable to poops? ;)

  • Ali

    Create apps for Blackberry (my gadget of choice), Android, or Windows Mobile, and screw Apple. Make your apps for all open platforms, and people will eventually switch to the platforms that offer them the most options.

  • http://www.funzoo.co.uk Gareth O Neill

    In the end I think the web will win. Microsoft had to open up their operating system to allow people to choose what browser they want so Apple should be brought to court over ant-competitive behaivour too. People should have the freedom of choice to buy from wherever they want instead of being tied to a specific app store. Apple were allowed to get away with it for so long but with the introduction of html5 people will have better web experiences on their phone and the web should overcome the app store.

  • Smash

    In my opinion, I think the web still stands stronger in more ways then smart phone apps. App creation is more for just the fundamental crowds. They really won’t help you in the long run compared to the web. Now days with all of the new options and mobile integrations, we can create a more powerful world where web meets mobile. If we were able to access these smart phone SDK’s without using the specific tools or dedications, then I think dedicated apps would be washed in heart beat. If it was an option, then it would open the doors for web developers & app developers to create better applications with more diversity. Of coarse Apple will never let us gain access, but apps are definitely not stronger then the web.

    Lets not forget about SEO & how we reach people. Does your App Do That?

  • http://www.crearecommunications.co.uk/ KJ

    I dislike the apple closed model but it doesn

  • http://www.arcanasphere.com MrAndrewJ

    I have an Android device that allows me to clutter seven unique screens with apps and widgets. At some point, that starts looking like a web browser with 20 toolbars installed. At the point when either product becomes that full of add-ons, it also loses much of its usability. So, I don’t think a lot of people will bite if every SMB were to launch a store-specific app. That real estate will begin to look precious to the end user.

    HTML5 is also looking to bridge a gap between apps and web sites. Not that those gaps need be made. Links sent to social media apps still open up in the browser. Plus, HTML5 has the backing of Google, who has motivation to keep us in our browsers as well.

    I understand the fear. It is something I have had to give some sincere thought to. Yet, I think there is enough benefit for users to stick with the browser and for businesses such as Google to encourage its use.

  • http://roundedcornermaker.com Bryan

    As I see it, the key word in this article is “proprietary”. So many things are being developed now that go against the nature of the web, which was intended to be a free and open source way to exchange information around the world. Quit trying to own me.

  • http://www.yeebaa.com Matt | Yeebaa Discounts Costa del Sol

    Surely the end result if taken far enough will be a compartmentalised version of what we have now and will offer less choice. Price fixing follows. Where’s the fun in that?

  • http://www.arohatech.com Ashish Kumar

    Great post, thanks for sharing it !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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