Twitter launched a number of new features for its website today that allow more companies to embed their content in the site’s right-hand media pane, making the site feel even more “app-like.” Coincidentally enough, while Twitter was making this announcement Google was launching Chrome OS, and talking about all the great apps that users can download from the Chrome store — many of which cost money to download and have features that don’t work fully unless you are using a Chrome browser or the Chrome OS. One is about the web and the other is about apps.
Obviously, Twitter has apps too — it has an iPhone ( aapl) app, an iPad app and an Android app, and may even be working on a Chrome OS app. But the company has also been spending a lot of time and resources on its website and adding new features to it, including the ability to embed Slideshare presentatations, Instagram photos, iTunes links shared via Ping, YouTube videos, Rdio tunes and other multimedia content. The new version of the site (which is still being rolled out to users) even feels app-like in the way content slides out into the media pane. But you don’t have to download it and you don’t have to pay for it.
The features that Google’s Chrome OS apps have to offer are nice as well, and the user interface in many cases is very slick, but they still represent new apps that users have to find and download from a new app store, just as they have to download apps for their iPads or iPhones, or their Android devices. Everyone seems to want to have an app or an app store — even Mozilla is apparently developing one — in part because of the monetization potential that many see, not just from users paying to download the application, but also from in-app purchases or subscriptions or upgrades.
So what happened to just using the Internet and the regular web? The father of the web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, wrote recently in Scientific American about the rise of the walled-garden approach to applications, and his concern about how users are being restricted by proprietary platforms, with limited abilities to link or share content, both of which are at the heart of the web’s power — and he is right to be concerned. In some ways, the web seems to be getting subsumed by a flurry of different platforms and app stores.
One of the powerful things about HTML5, as Google CEO Eric Schmidt noted in his talk following the Chrome OS launch, is that it allows developers to produce rich, interactive websites that look and feel like applications. So why don’t more companies take the approach that Twitter is taking, and develop better websites instead of focusing on building apps for a dozen different stores? Obviously apps have a number of benefits — monetization through downloads being one of them — but there are a ton of benefits to just having a better website as well, and one is that anyone can use it without having to pay for it.
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