People don't use the Internet like they used to. Have you
noticed? Wired magazine's Chris Anderson has. And in his lengthy new
cover story The Web Is Dead. Long Live the Internet
he argues that the Web browser is being replaced by applications and
semi-closed platforms like iPhone apps, Facebook, iTunes and TweetDeck. The
result is the end of the open Web as we know it. “Over the past few
years, one of the most important shifts in the digital world has been
the move from the wide-open Web to semiclosed platforms that use the
Internet for transport but not the browser for display,” Anderson
Blame human nature. As much as we intellectually appreciate openness, at the end of the day we favor the easiest path. We’ll pay for convenience and reliability, which is why iTunes can sell songs for 99 cents despite the fact that they are out there, somewhere, in some form, for free. When you are young, you have more time than money, and LimeWire is worth the hassle. As you get older, you have more money than time. The iTunes toll is a small price to pay for the simplicity of just getting what you want. The more Facebook becomes part of your life, the more locked in you become. Artificial scarcity is the natural goal of the profit-seeking.
Is he right? The article has already made a big splash. Here's what his early critics think:
- Anderson Speaks Too Soon, writes Erick Schonfeld at TechCrunch: "Don’t count the browser out just yet. These shifts happen in waves. First the browser took over everything, then developers wanted more options and moved to apps (desktop and mobile), but the browser will eventually absorb those features, and so the leapfrogging continues. The ubiquity of the browser overcomes most of its technical deficiencies. Even in mobile, people will become overwhelmed by apps and the browser will make a comeback."
- Anderson's Professional Biases Have Clouded His Vision, writes Alexis Madrigal at The Atlantic: "Serious technology scholars long ago discarded the idea that tech was just a series of increasingly awesomer things that successively displace each other... Anderson doesn't work on, nor believe in, the economics of content on the web, and so while he's making his case against the web generally, he's also making the specific point that print and tablet editions of Wired make sense, but its website (which he doesn't edit) does not. That's certainly an argument that can be made, but it's impossible not to notice -- if you worked at Wired.com like I did -- that Anderson's inevitable technological path happens to run perfectly through the domains (print/tablet) he controls at Wired, and away from the one that he doesn't."
- Missing a Big Point, writes Matt Buchanan at Gizmodo: "It's true that the open, free-for-all web is besieged, but in a lot of ways Anderson doesn't mention, like the potential neutering of net neutrality principles or the ongoing bandwidth crimp that could hamper innovative-but-data-intensive services—and, in turn, push users toward the kind of boxed services (cable VOD or ISP preferred content) that has Anderson so nerve-wracked. Like Comcast giving preferred access to NBC's content by not counting it toward your monthly data allowance (since Comcast owns half of NBC now), or Verizon speeding up YouTube over Vimeo. You can look at it as a hardware problem vs. a software problem—and if the hardware is screwed, so is the software."
- It’s Far Too Early to Call the Open Web Dead, writes Web guru Tim O'Reilly in a discussion at Wired: "Just because some big media companies are excited about the app ecosystem. I predict that those same big media companies are going to get their clocks cleaned by small innovators, just as they did on the web. The big winners are going to be the platform companies, just as they were last time around, and the time before that, and the time before that. So the key question has to be who are the platform companies, and what kind of platform are they building? And as I’ve argued in some previous messages in this thread, the idea of the 'closed' web depends on the notion that one player can find all the points of control, win on all fronts, and create a 'one ring' style of platform. But the evidence is strong that instead, we’re going to have a multi-player platform, one in which openness and interoperability are required for all the pieces to work together."
- Is Anderson's Claim Backed Up By Data? tweets Atlantic tech editor Alexis Madrigal:
More @wired thoughts: is the app biz more sustainable, really? Who has the numbers to back that up?