Rumors of the Web’s death may be exaggerated

Wired’s head­line screams that the Web is dead. Similar head­lines have screamed sim­i­lar things about past media. Print, radio, tele­vi­sion, they’ve all been declared dead at some point in their lives. Hell, print was dead back in 1984, if you can believe Harold Ramis.

Of course the Web’s not dead. It may not even be dying – it all depends on how you crunch the num­bers and what unit you choose to mea­sure with. The head­line is meant to draw read­ers in, and it has done its job well.

So what does the arti­cle, writ­ten by Chris Anderson and Michael Wolff, actu­ally say? It’s really a pair of arti­cles that focus on the rise of the app-centric Internet. Anderson says that twas users killed the Web, for they chose “get­ting” over “browsing.”

An entire gen­er­a­tion has grown up in front of a browser. The explo­ration of a new world has turned into busi­ness as usual. We get the Web. It’s part of our life. And we just want to use the ser­vices that make our life bet­ter. Our appetite for dis­cov­ery slows as our famil­iar­ity with the sta­tus quo grows.

How do you “get” things online? You choose appli­ca­tions that just work, like the pro­grams you down­load from the iTunes Store for your iPad or the doo­dads you run on your smart­phone or the Netflix func­tion­al­ity built in to your X-box. Every time a user buys or uses an app instead of a Web browser, it’s a vote for a more closed and cen­trally orga­nized sys­tem, Anderson says.

Rather that see­ing this as the death of cre­ativ­ity, as Jonathan Zittrain more or less does, Anderson sees this as a nat­ural stage in the evo­lu­tion of mar­kets, indus­tries and media. We would do well, he says, to remem­ber that the Web does not rep­re­sent the pin­na­cle of Internet-use evolution.

The Internet is the real rev­o­lu­tion, as impor­tant as elec­tric­ity; what we do with it is still evolv­ing. As it moved from your desk­top to your pocket, the nature of the Net changed. The deliri­ous chaos of the open Web was an ado­les­cent phase sub­si­dized by indus­trial giants grop­ing their way in a new world. Now they’re doing what indus­tri­al­ists do best — find­ing choke points. And by the looks of it, we’re lov­ing it.

Wolff’s arti­cle takes a dif­fer­ent approach, say­ing that it was busi­nesses look­ing for ways to turn an online profit that led the way toward the app-focused Internet. Companies that grow huge online even­tu­ally reach a crit­i­cal mass, he writes. After that, they become too big to beat. They become an empire. The sun never sets on them. Google did it. Amazon did too, for a while.

But no empire lasts for­ever. So rather than beat­ing them at their game, which they’ve already mas­tered, the chal­lengers find ways to inno­vate and to play a new game on a dif­fer­ent ball­field. The new game is so inno­v­a­tive and so dif­fer­ent that peo­ple flock to it — think of Facebook here. Soon, the new game becomes sim­ply a way of life and an empire of its own, all with­out directly com­pet­ing with the old empires.

The biggest mon­ey­mak­ing game in town now is pro­vid­ing qual­ity con­tent to con­sumers. The con­tent pro­duc­ers will make money by charg­ing peo­ple for access to that con­tent on an app plat­form — and peo­ple will pay for it because it’s easy, it works and it looks good. The con­tent pro­duc­ers will also make money off of adver­tis­ers, who will be more will­ing to pay more money for ads that reach a sta­ble audi­ence, rather than the brigades of drifters that com­prise nor­mal Web traffic.

Since the dawn of the com­mer­cial Web, tech­nol­ogy has eclipsed con­tent. The new busi­ness model is to try to let the con­tent — the prod­uct, as it were — eclipse the technology.

No mat­ter how you look at it, app use is on the rise. And while it’s not nec­es­sar­ily killing the Web, we would do well to remem­ber that there’s an open and gen­er­a­tive Internet wait­ing behind all those pretty and well-designed apps, an Internet just wait­ing for another BIG THING to bring the next gen­er­a­tion of media moguls to their knees and painfully shat­ter their pre­cious networks.

This all reminds me of some­thing Clay Shirky wrote last year. He focused on the death of news­pa­pers, but the idea fits:

Now is the time for exper­i­ments, lots and lots of exper­i­ments, each of which will seem as minor at launch as craigslist did, as Wikipedia did, as octavo vol­umes did.