Web’s Dead, Baby: Part 2

Well, now that I’ve made you wait a couple of weeks to tell you why the Web is dead, I guess it’s time to disappoint (nothing can live up to that amount of hype). As my one piece of evidence I present this link. Go ahead, look at it. I’ll wait.

So, what did you think? If you were thinking, “What the hell is Emacs?” you missed the point. I wanted you to look at the design of the page. In fact, you can check out this link to see the time and effort that went into that design. I’ll wait.. again.

Okay, you done? Good. What did you think? Don’t answer, that was rhetorical (and people sitting near you will think you’re crazy for talking at the computer). I’ll tell you what I think. It’s glorious. It’s a fine piece of web design. That hand drawn look is very cool and the overall design is simple and easy to read. The fonts are great and I really admire the thought, time, and artistry that went into creating it. Now look at this image (click or touch for a larger version):


This is how that website looks on a mobile browser. Specifically, that’s how it looks on Chrome for Android on my Galaxy S3. So that great design, gone. The artistry, gone. Everything that made that sight design unique and interesting, gone.

“But Joey, the content is still there and surely that is what’s most important.” Yes, I know. Bear with me. It’s not just the mobile browsers, it’s the news aggregators that have been chipping away as well. Google Reader (now defunct), Feedly, whatever you want to use, they all strip the style of a site and just serve up the content. I’m old school and even though I’ve used Reader, even I have to admit that that it stripped away the context, the feel that the author intended to convey when they designed their site. Also, it makes it much easier to just go to your news aggregator and have things served up to you that you’ve previously subscribed to. Pretty soon, that’s all you’re looking at and the wider web is not within your walls.

Speaking of walls, here comes the real web killer. The thing that is making the web the long lost child that everyone has forgotten. Apps. APPS!!!! Apps are creating walled gardens of content. Instagram instantly comes to mind as an example. It’s pretty much a mobile only experience (at first an iPhone only experience). Sure they’ve added some web content in the past few months, but it’s just an afterthought, the only real way to see and interact fully is through an app.

Apps are putting up walls where the web had previously broke them down. Before the web, AOL, Prodigy, CompuServe, etc. all served up their own private content, and if you didn’t subscribe, you didn’t even have access to it. Apps are doing the same thing. To view and create content through certain services, you have to have their app. And some apps are iPhone only, or Android only, or only available on certain phone carriers. This isn’t progression, it’s regression. We are literally traveling back in time to the land of AOL and the private BBS.

Sure, the web is still around, and it will be for years and years to come, but it’s dead. Like magma that has cooled and solidified, the web sits and awaits its fate. And the freedom and the openness of the web? They’re slipping away too. The time when all you needed was a browser window to look into the vastness of all human intellect is fading into history. So when your grandkids ask you what the web was, you’ll just tell them, “The Web’s dead, baby. The Web’s dead.

Web’s Dead, Baby: Part 1

Twenty two years is a good run for most technology these days. In fact it’s a phenomenal run. That’s how long the World Wide Web has been in existence. But I’m here today to tell you that the web as we know it is DEAD! (The irony of making this statement in a weblog post does not escape me.) What killed the web? How did it die? Is this the end of all things? Come close and I’ll tell you the story of the end of the web, but first, a little history.

The web has become synonymous with the Internet. When people today talk about the Internet, they are talking about the World Wide Web (henceforth, I’ll just call it the web). But the Internet is actually more than just the web. It is a large network of computers that use a number of protocols and services to exchange information. Email is the prime example often given of a non-web Internet service, although it can now be accessed through the web. The Internet is more the connections between the computers than it is the content. Here are a list of some Internet services, both living and dead, that you might know.

  • Usenet – This is the original Internet discussion forum. Thousands of Usenet groups were created for topics ranging from computing to German fetish porn. In fact the web was first announced on a group called alt.hypertext.
  • Gopher – This is a (mostly) dead Internet service that was very similar to the early web. It was text based like the early web, but instead of hyperlinks, it used numbered menus for navigation. (I am old enough to remember and have used Gopher. I actually preferred it to the web in my early Internet dealings.)
  • Internet Relay Chat (IRC) – Before Facetime, Hangouts, Skype, or even AIM and Yahoo Messenger, IRC was where people came to chat with other netizens (remember when that was a word?).
  • File Transfer Protocol (FTP) – This was an early, and still in use Internet protocol for file sharing. In the days before BitTorrent and the Pirate Bay, anonymous FTP servers were where the pirates went to trade their warez.

Before the web these were the main services that were used on the Internet. They were all text based and text information was the main thing being shared on most of them. If you wanted a richer multimedia experience, early Internet consumers turned to services like America Online, CompuServe, and Prodigy. They offered walled gardens of multimedia content.

But then came the web. At first it was text based too, but multimedia was quickly added. With the advent of the graphical Mosaic web browser, then Netscape Navigator, and finally Internet Explorer, the web took off like a rocket. Standards bodies were set up and mostly agreed upon and the golden age of the web began.

From the mid-90s to about the year 2000 the web grew at a tremendous rate, but after that the newness started to wear off. People began to wonder what was next for the web. In 1999 a new term was coined, Web 2.0. This term referred to the use of dynamic content on web sites (until that point most web content was just static content on a page). Web 2.0 allowed the web consumer to interact with content. We were on the verge of a new golden age, but there was a threat. After crushing Netscape Navigator in the great browser wars, Microsoft allowed it’s browser Internet Explorer to languish. Innovation ground to a halt and web developers spent most of their time writing around rendering errors in IE’s browsing engine. Finally, in 2003 a new web browser called Firefox rose from the ashes to challenge IE and allowed Web 2.0 to reach its full potential.

Okay, now the history lesson’s over. We get to the heart of it in Part 2!