The Web is dying; apps are killing it

“The Web — that thin veneer of human-readable design on top of the machine babble that constitutes the Internet — is dying,” Christopher Mims writes for The Wall Street Journal. “And the way it’s dying has farther-reaching implications than almost anything else in technology today.”

“Think about your mobile phone. All those little chiclets on your screen are apps, not websites, and they work in ways that are fundamentally different from the way the Web does,” Mims writes. “Mountains of data tell us that, in aggregate, we are spending time in apps that we once spent surfing the Web. We’re in love with apps, and they’ve taken over. On phones, 86% of our time is spent in apps, and just 14% is spent on the Web, according to mobile-analytics company Flurry.”

“Everything about apps feels like a win for users — they are faster and easier to use than what came before. But underneath all that convenience is something sinister: the end of the very openness that allowed Internet companies to grow into some of the most powerful or important companies of the 21st century,” Mims writes. “It isn’t that today’s kings of the app world want to quash innovation, per se. It is that in the transition to a world in which services are delivered through apps, rather than the Web, we are graduating to a system that makes innovation, serendipity and experimentation that much harder for those who build things that rely on the Internet. ”

Much more in the full article here.

20 Comments

    1. Apps aren’t killing the web, the iPhone is. With the iPhone, I can be using the internet anywhere without being tethered to a wall or carrying around a 2 lb laptop that I have to open, wait for it to wake up, and hope there’s a wifi connection within range.

      My iPhone gets the internet just about anywhere. Cellular or wifi, I don’t need to plug into any network. Can’t access the locked wifi? Fine, use 4G (works better for me often than many public wifi spots anyway).

      Apps are just an easy, quick way to access specific data. The beauty of apps is what was promised by widgets years ago — small, fast applications that just do one or a few things but do it well and fast.

      And the reason I don’t use Safari to access this info most of the time is because web designers have made their sites so packed full of stuff that they’re unreadable, or half of their content is not usable by a mobile OS. Plus, loading all that junk takes forever. And as the last straw, most “mobile” sites are so unusable or devoid of the information I came to receive that there’s no point in using the site at all. Until web designers figure out that mobile web sites are just as or more important than their main website, they’re going to have trouble (unless they have a good app!).

      1. The only stuff that is dying, are the apps that pertain to replace a web site, e.g., MDN-like apps. They offer nothing new. Dumbed down formatting, inability to scale, and they are often behind the updates of the proper web page version.

  1. Internet Explorer, Java and Flash killed the old web. The new sites however based on anything but those three are hugely better and point to a better future beyond crappy banner ads and pop ups.

    1. Agreed. Many apps are just custom front ends to a web site (MDN’s app, NewEgg Flash app, etc.). And many other apps require data sourced from the Internet – maps, weather, etc. I have no clue why the author thinks that the web is dying. It is simply transforming.

  2. This story is BS from a technological perspective, at least that which I was able to read before being required to log in to read the rest.

    The fact is, content based apps are, and have always been, based on standards created or further developed by the Web.

    Take a look at the MDN app. The app itself is just the front end to a back end platform that’s based on PHP, MySQL, CSS, HTML, XML, and the mother of Satan as an ad server.

    This isn’t unusual. The idea is that you use a CMS (like WordPress) to develop, edit and manage your content, and then publish it out to as many platforms as you can possibly reach.

    The reverse of this is that if you have a platform, you’re going to maintain compatibility with those same standards so your users can consume that content.

    It doesn’t make sense for content providers who have invested and built the infrastructure based on wide and broad distribution to suddenly enclose their content and restrict it to platform specific apps.

  3. I shake my head at the idea of the article though it has merit. I shake my idea at the remarks of Thelonious Mac though it has merit.

    For me it’s not a life and death question. Traffic on the net is better than ever, the human internet is alive and oh it’s the “well” part that comes into question.

    In terms of quantity the net is dynamic. It’s the quality that is changing and that’s where the ideas of article and Thelonius Mac have merit.

    There was a time when computers came onto the scene where there was no internet. It was all applications, programs. The quality changed of course, modems became popular, you could fax a piece of paper, or set up a Bulletin Board Service. That was revolutionary, and the geeks embraced it, enhanced it and the world wide web got really going.

    It was pure anarchy, freedom of expression. From beautiful to gross.

    Now as Thelonious Mac insightfully points out, there is spying, advertising (anyone that has a screen shot of MDN say 10-15 years ago will see the difference) and so on and on and on.

    The geeks have left for other pastures, leaving the Web to the marketeers, profiteers, polyticks and so on who herd the masses. The Web isn’t dead, it’s just that the quality of the experience has been zombiefied be it by web pages or apps.

    It used to be really something at the start, a pinnacle of humanity’s achievement. Then they put in a restaurant, a museum, a fair ride, neon lights, a Casino, billboards, hookers and politicians came to visit. You can insert your analogy here but face it, the charm of the neighborhood is gone.

    That quality is still alive, just not apparent on the front pages of the Web.

    Thanks Thelonious Mac, that was a great list.

  4. I add my voice to the dissenters.

    Many apps provide no more functionality than a browser-based approach but they are always optimised for the mobile experience, which most websites are not. So it is faster and easier to use a banking app than frig around with an old style website in Safari.

    Apps are being used more because people are moving to mobile. But people are still using browsers on their phones and on their tablets. Search is moving from keystrokes to voice and most major newspapers have apps for mobile users.

    All a user needs to have full access to the web is a single button to launch a browser. And since that button is on every mobile device the user is always free to dive into the web.

    If you click on a link in the MDN app you will be directed to a webpage, from where you can click other links. What’s the difference?

  5. He didn’t say the Internet is dying, he said the web is. The Web, WWW, is a popular Internet protocol, but not the only one. He’s just saying people are using the WWW less and apps more. The “dying” part is just for clicks.

  6. Oddly, I prefer the web to dedicated apps when visiting newspaper sites, blogs, etc. The main reason is being able to use all the variations of zooming that Safari offers. This simply makes all manner of pages readable.

    There’s nothing more frustrating than having no built in zoom control (OS level zooming is just not as elegant, especially on an iOS device).

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