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.