On the heels of Michael Hirschorn’s July declaration in the Atlantic that the era of browser dominance is coming to a close — the app model is where it’s at — Chris Anderson and Michael Wolff affirm in Wired that the web is indeed dead. Long live the Internet.
You wake up and check your email on your bedside iPad — that’s one app. During breakfast you browse Facebook, Twitter, and The New York Times — three more apps. On the way to the office, you listen to a podcast on your smartphone. Another app. At work, you scroll through RSS feeds in a reader and have Skype and IM conversations. More apps. At the end of the day, you come home, make dinner while listening to Pandora, play some games on Xbox Live, and watch a movie on Netflix’s streaming service.
You’ve spent the day on the Internet — but not on the Web. And you are not alone.
If we’re moving away from the open Web, it’s at least in part because of the rising dominance of businesspeople more inclined to think in the all-or-nothing terms of traditional media than in the come-one-come-all collectivist utopianism of the Web. This is not just natural maturation but in many ways the result of a competing idea — one that rejects the Web’s ethic, technology, and business models. The control the Web took from the vertically integrated, top-down media world can, with a little rethinking of the nature and the use of the Internet, be taken back.
This development — a familiar historical march, both feudal and corporate, in which the less powerful are sapped of their reason for being by the better resourced, organized, and efficient — is perhaps the rudest shock possible to the leveled, porous, low-barrier-to-entry ethos of the Internet Age. After all, this is a battle that seemed fought and won — not just toppling newspapers and music labels but also AOL and Prodigy and anyone who built a business on the idea that a curated experience would beat out the flexibility and freedom of the Web.
Still reading, I expect I’m in general agreement. I may comment further, later. If you’ve read it, start the conversation in District TMV.
LATER: The web is AM; the app is FM. The web is broadcast; the app is premium cable — and every media company hopes to be the new HBO. The Apple trackpad means the end of the mouse; betting is Apple will never introduce another tower computer. The desktop is on its way out, too.
This will be remembered as the summer when the road ahead became clear: The Verizon Google “agreement” signals that the web, and only the web, will be the more regulated, and protected, public space. The web is the new “broadcast” space where the rhetoric of “the public owns the airwaves” (where’s our deed anyway?) is replaced by some variation of that old internet ethos, “collaborative, co-operative, and free.”
We’ve been down this road before. Repeatedly. Neither all good nor all bad, it is what it is. Still, there’s room for change at the margins, so we all should be advocates for the kind of network we want. And the network I want is not solely driven by corporate profits.