Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Is the Web Dead?

In one of the most fascinating articles about the Web I have read in the recent past, Chris Anderson, the editor-in-chief of Wired magazine and the author of the book/concept the Long Tail argues that the Web is Dead. The title of the article is quite catchy, but as the Web would say,"The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated."Instead, Chris explains how some essential characteristics of the web are changing:

1. There has been a considerable change in traffic on the internet; from FTP and web being the majority in 2000, to video and peer-to-peer dominating in 2010.

2. The larger websites have become the media giants of 2010. Look at Facebook, Apple iTunes and Youtube; in 2001 the top 10 websites accounted for 31 percent of pageviews in the US. Now, the top 10 websites account for 75% of page views. And these larger players are likely to encourage closed gardens to monetize to the maximum, rather than make it all open and completely accessible. A case in point is iTunes.

3. The way we access the web is changing; more and more content is being consumed through smarter, thick clients like apps, on smartphones and tablets vs. the browser. A large part of this is because these thick clients offer much better user-experience. As a result, the internet is being used as a dumb transport mechanism.

4. The big web properties are acting more like all-or-nothing media giants, vs. what Chris calls the 'come-one-come-all collective utopianism' of the Web. Chris compares this to the natural path of industrialization: invention, propagation, adoption, control. Very strong argument!

5. Other than search, the web has not proven to be a great mechanism for advertising. A case in point is banner ads; they have always suffered from low CTRs, and are generally ignored by users. However alternative advertising mechanisms presented outside the pure browser-page based ads could be pretty attractive. This could include advertising mechanisms like sponsored social goods, banners in social games, mobile app based ads, video ads etc. While all of these are available on the browser, they are increasingly being used outside the browser.

In some sense, I do agree with Chris; especially since tablets and mobile phone based apps often provide a very engaging user-experience, far better than a general purpose browser. But there are several reasons why the web is far from dead

1. The web remains the largest source of information, and the currency of exchange of information - web links - get more and more important as this information is spread across the web rather than concentrated at one place. Even large properties like Facebook and Twitter rely on the exchange of information through links. In fact, as soon as I complete this blog entry, I will post it on facebook and twitter, which is probably why you are reading it.

2. App traffic is growing because of video, but is traffic the right measure? It takes several times more bandwidth to consume an hour long video, than is needed when keeping the user engaged for an hour with a traditional web page. So the metric for comparing is not exactly fair.

3. There are several innovations in web browsers - particularly from Google Chrome - that might help bring back the browser.

4. The B2B web is likely to remain on the web as far as I can see - I mean how else could you write something that can easily be used within and outside an enterprise, than as a web application. In fact, enterprises are still in the midst of completing the transition to web-based applications, so the thought of moving from the web to this new app based web is hard to think of.

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