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The App Internet in 2012: Defining the death of the web

There has been an interesting debate going on about the future of the web. Forrester CEO George Colony gave a speech at LeWeb where he proclaimed three thunderstorms are coming. The first one of these is the death of the web and the emergence of a new kind of Internet called the “App Internet.”

This is not the first time someone has declared the death (or the dying of) the web. In fact, there have been countless debates on the subject and most people involved are, in my opinion, both right but also wrong.

At this point in the debate our main problem is that we are lacking proper definitions when we talk about the Web, the changes that are happening to it and what it really means for users and developers.

Moving Away From The Document Web

Mark Suster wrote a great response about the death of the Web in which he outlined that the App Internet is comparable to a move towards fat clients in the PC age. In recent years, the move to web applications made development a lot cheaper because of easier deployment, more simple security models and inexpensive cross platform compatibility, among other things.

But before jumping in on this it’s important that we dissect the definition of the “Web.” In almost all of these debates people tend to confuse the “Document Web” in which HTML pages are interconnected through hyperlinks with something else: “Web Technology” – a set of standards and APIs to access system functionality in order to provide user experiences (this includes HTML5, Webkit and protocols).

Considering these definitions, there is a clear move away from the Document Web. The amount of code, complexity and capabilities running in a typical web page has increased dramatically over the past decade. This started with the AJAX trick that allowed web developers to load data without reloading a page. Now it has come to a point where we have all user interface code loaded into the browser.

Most communication now happens in the background through near real-time API calls in a format called JSON. Effectively, this means that most web sites have become “apps” and it is no surprise that browser vendors are helping to solve app distribution mechanisms – i.e., creating new app marketplaces.

The move away from the Document Web is a result of reduced costs and important advances in Web Technology.

HTML5 & Developer Costs

The incredible improvements in Web Technology can be summarized with the popular term HTML5. But don’t be fooled — HTML5 has very little to do with HTML, web pages, links and the Document Web.

HTML5 is an umbrella term for the tremendous advance in JavaScript capabilities in modern browser engines. Google and Apple spearheaded many of these developments, even though they receive far less credit than the Holy W3C Consortium.

As Mark Suster correctly points out, it is very costly for companies, especially small ones, to develop apps for all these different platforms. They are forced to write Java for Android, Cocoa for iPhone, JavaScript for the Browser, ActionScript for Desktop, and so forth. It is no surprise that there are flourishing businesses, like Appcelerator for example, that bring HTML5 based web technology to these platforms.

Developers are intensely motivated by software development costs and they want one codebase to rule them all.

Who Wins With The Death Of The Document Web?

HTML5 and JavaScript are the immediate winners of an App Internet.

The combination of HTML, JavaScript and CSS is proven, widely adopted and already available on all of these platforms. When it comes to building apps, HTML5 and JavaScript is here to stay. The Document Web is dying, albeit slowly.

Today’s Web server is increasingly becoming a data hub that provides connectivity and data synchronization between different client apps. This data hub is becoming much more like a Machine Interface as opposed to a User Interface. It might still render some dumb static HTML pages for the Google Bot, but as any site owner can see in their statistics, traffic from traditional search engines is increasingly being eaten by Twitter and Facebook — or rather, the real-time social Web.

The Web is indeed moving beyond documents and interconnected pages. So yes, we should consider the Document Web as good as dead (along with it the importance of HTTP). But the sky is not falling. In fact, Web Technology is thriving.

Websites are becoming fantastic data hubs because they are built using Web technologies like Node.js (JavaScript on the server). And emerging Web technologies – such as Socket.IO and Telehash – are making it possible for apps to be interconnected in real-time by using new transport layers.

The combination of language standardization and better use of Web technologies means that apps will be more prolific, provide more value and will be much easier to build.

So by this definition, I’d argue the Web has really only just begun.

Dominiek ter Heide is the CTO and co-founder of Bottlenose, the smartest social media dashboard for professionals and influencers. Prior to Bottlenose, he served as CTO for iKnow, a Japanese e-learning web platform. When not incubating social and semantic web products, Dominiek enjoys surfing at the beach and writing algorithms.

Image courtesy of Sam Howzit.

16 Responses to “The App Internet in 2012: Defining the death of the web”

  1. windows7phone

    Thanks for the review! Vee Eee Technologies.I agree with you regarding the limitations of the built-in tools when it comes to time tracking. If you’re finding that OmniFocus is more complex than you need you might give Things a try. Things is my task manager of choice and I find it’s a joy to use. There’s plenty of functionality under the hood (including repeating tasks), and it never seems to get in the way.Nice Post. Thanks for your sharing.

  2. It helps to have somebody frame the argument from a perspective that I feel began with the launch of web widgets — web technologies are what matters…

    Mobile brings us a step forward, although I like to say that the device is actually a problem, because people focus on that and miss the trends. The largest of these trends is that people demand simplicity, and this is a force for closed systems at the moment. An entire article can be written on why companies will not work together, and Apple is a primary antagonist in this scenario. A less visible trend is the focusing of business processes.

    Many large companies very simply do not have the foundations for data portability in place. My past is littered with examples of trying to resolve prescription information or past purchases from disparate systems in the dark basements of corporate headquarters. We need these APIs in order to access information for targeted services.

    I would suggest that the trends are really about flexibility of business practices, and that apps or the web are very simply consequences. We are busy redefining corporate practice in the ascendancy of a service economy.

  3. David Semeria

    Dominiek, I hope the irony of you writing about the death of the “document web” using a web document (replete with hyperlinks) is not lost on you…

    Mobile apps and browser apps satisfy different use cases (as you, yourself, have just demonstrated). Neither will go away soon.

  4. Practically now, the web is just a series of channels. Only Youtube, Facebook, Wikipedia, Itunes. Few people ever explore the internet or research things. Few people even contribute. Now there are loads of pointless websites and beyond the “safe walls” of the most popular websites is just a huge mass of corruption. The internet is not a fun place to be anymore.

  5. Any app on iOS/Android, etc is simply a “custom browser” – they all consume data via some internet connected protocol. If the architect has any skill at all they’ve built one set of web apis that serves both the iOS and android custom browsers (apps) that they’ve built.

    The app glee that apple’s been pushing has to end somewhere though because (like this article says) most people cant afford to port their app into 3-4 different versions.

    • “The app glee that apple’s been pushing has to end somewhere though because (like this article says) most people cant afford to port their app into 3-4 different versions.” Use Adobe Air/Flash then to bring one bit of code to multiple platforms ;-)

  6. Dominiek…

    Given your elearning background, how do you see the app web effecting elearning? As a premier elearning company we’re already using HTML5, JavaScript and CSS for mobile and tablet work. We see Flash dieting a slow (or fast) death. We see our largely sales oriented elearning merging into a new kind of social consumer education. Any thoughts?

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  8. Kobe Wild

    it’s going to be a very long time before this “death of the web” . some sites are just better presented to you as app’s.
    webpage navigation sucks on devices that have only a touch interface. App’s work just better there.
    I don’t be installing “web app’s” on my laptop or desktop computer because the standard, mouse and keyboard interface works better there. The right interface for the right device.

  9. Great article, and I agree that there are many wrong opinions out there. If I get this right, you are saying that ‘death of the web’ is more like the ‘death of the traditional web browser’ since the biggest difference between a web site and a web app is the browser. But do any of us really seeing that becoming a reality? I don’t. Will the web be very different 3 years from now? Of course! Look at it 3 years ago!

  10. Juan Ignacio Sanz

    I think that most people must see these technologies as an evolution of those present in the original web. There are some point of interest in George Colony speak: there’s been a lot of changes in computing, hardware during the last two decades and that is not true for the protocols and primary languages of the web. But, anyone can make a website and link to other info without complex or proprietary app.

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