updated: October 24th, 2010 / Ross Johnson / 6 Comments

Why Wired Had It Wrong – The Internet is Dead

I can remember reading an article in Wired magazine in 1998 that described the all to near end of the earth that would be caused by the year turning 2000. The article was close to ten pages and could convince even the biggest skeptic to start hoarding bottled water and canned beans. Of course the year 2000 came and went and there were no mobs, massive infrastructure failures or general mayhem.

Today I came across an article by the same publication with the name “The Web Is Dead. Long Live the Internet.” While I can understand that a technology based publication will always be covering trends and making predictions I get the clear sense that Wired has a pattern for sensationalism. This is again the case with their latest article and predictions, which uses irrelevant examples and figures to prove this grand “The way we use the internet is changing” statement.

Why Wired Things the Web is Dead

Wired claims that recent technology and devices have shifted using services from web based interfaces to applications and APIs. They cite examples such as the Facebook, Twitter and Gmail applications, all of which are available for mobile devices and often desktop as well. The core argument is that through applications and web service APIs you can create a more enjoyable and easier experience than through a web browser.

They claim that what we do online has much more to do with the general internet and very little to do with web sites. As a result, why would we need a web browser?

Why Wired is Wrong

At first pass the article is actually quite compelling. With the excitement around mobile applications and popular desktop twitter clients it is easy to imagine a world where you have a handful of applications to do your online tasks instead of one browser that is suited for everything. The first few pages of the article actually instilled a bit of fear, after all my company primarily does website design and development… not applications. However this fear actually reminded me of the 2000 article I had read over ten years ago, in some ways it felt very similar.

Upon further though and a bit of research it became increasingly more clear that Wired could not be more wrong. The web isn’t becoming less popular, in fact it is still being used in favor of applications that have been traditionally desktop applications.

The most obvious example would be email. While e-mail was born out of terminal commands it quickly became a service that was primarily used through desktop software such as Microsoft Outlook. While web-based e-mail solutions have been around forever it did go through a period where people were using it less and less. However with creation of Gmail web-based e-mail is actually at an all time high. If the web really is dead and we are moving towards an application focused experience why are users gravitating away from an application in favor of a web browser?

This shift isn’t limited to email/gmail. The google apps tool set has many users migrating from desktop based office applications towards web-based ones. Some of the most common computer tasks are now being done through a web browser, including word processing, slideshows and spreadsheets. Even financial management is moving to a web interface through sites like Mint.com, Quickbooks, Freshbooks and Quicken online. Again despite the fact that there are “apps” for the iPad, iPhone, Android, Deskop, etc… users are preferring the browser-based experience.

Finally if you look at how time is spent online it is overwhelming done so through websites and not applications and APIs. Topping the lists are social networks, videos and search… all of which are primarily accessed through a browser.

Why Apps Won’t Be The Future

While apps are the rage now they will always be limited in their adoption. There will always be the fringe cases where an app fits perfectly with an internet related task, but it isn’t going to be the common place. The fact of the matter is that it takes the effort to find, download and install an application. Imagine having to do that for everything you do online, it would be obnoxious and difficult. Additionally having a separate app on your computer or mobile device would be annoying as well.

It is actually easier and a better experience to be able to handle a majority of your internet tasks through a common piece of software. For those who are less savvy it is a consistent interface that they know how to use and don’t have to be bothered with locating and downloading dozens of apps to take advantage of the internet.

Don’t be convinced by Wired, the web is strong and getting stronger. Software will continue to move away from the app and towards web interfaces. From photo editing to CAD you can expect to be using the web for a long time to come.

6 thoughts Why Wired Had It Wrong – The Internet is Dead

  1. Couldn’t agree more – about Wired and the ‘death of the internet’.

    In regards to Wired, I’ve noticed more and more sensational articles like this lately. They kind of throw these assertions out and see if they stick. If they were right, they’ll bring it up a few years from now. If not, they’ll just let it die. I’m a subscriber by the way, but probably not for long.

    In regards to the rise of apps – I think they’re wrong again. While I agree that using apps on my phone is much nicer than using their web page counterparts, I think that’s only because smart phones are still crippled when it comes to webpages. It all comes down to usability and speed and smart phones just aren’t there with web browsers. This is fundamentally a hardware issue we’re facing.

    Gmail is a great example of this – the gmail app on my android phone is much nicer to use than the webpage, but only because it loads faster and is more responsive. Is the webpage not working as well an inherent flaw of the web platform? Or just that the phone can’t render it fast enough? Seems to be a limitation on hardware and network speed to me.

    I think this is really just a problem with phones, and not a fundamental shift away from how we like to do tasks. Ask yourself: would you rather answer emails on your phone using your gmail app? or on your laptop/desktop using the gmail webpage? How can webpages be dead when I’d so much rather be using one.

    Jon
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  3. That is an excellent point Jon, I didn’t even consider the reason that applications currently work better in some situations is because the browser technology is lacking.

    To further prove your point I have come across mobile websites that are well optimized for a mobile browser (like the webkit based ones) that work just as well as any native application.

    It does clearly seem like Wired has a habit of making Nostradamus style claims with and saying “I told you so” in the rare case that they panned out. Even in this article they mention they originally predicted this in 1997, yet hear we are almost 14 years later and it still is completely unfounded.

    Wired can be an interesting tech read but their editorial can be pretty fanatical. I find better news at places like Tech Crunch.

    Ross Johnson
  4. This is a very practical article. I was impressed by that fact.

    Also, I feel Wired’s article is extremely derivative of Smashing Magazine’s death of web design editorials a month ago.

    Amanda
  5. I agree Apps are a fad for the mobile world and will be replaced with something more sophisticated.

    David.

  6. Clive Thompson writes an overblown BS editorial like this EVERY issue. It’s like he’s set on “filler.” After a few issues you learn to roll your eyes and move on to avoiding all the crap on new toys. However, the murder mystery stories they used to run, and the “real” science articles are still good.

    I like browsers because they have more window real estate and do not take nearly the amount of hand-holding and administration typical of an iPhone ha ha.

    JonkBronson

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