How Dead Is the Web?

BIIgnition.pngNEW YORK -- Over the summer, Michael Hirschorn of The Atlantic and Chris Anderson and Michael Wolff of Wired independently declared that "the Web is dead." The era of the Web browser is over; in our increasingly mobile age, consumers utilize the Internet through apps, gaming consoles, their iTunes and a plethora of other non-browser sources.

But the Web isn't dead. It's just primed for a resurgence in the face of the app world. At Business Insider's IGNITION conference, Conde Nast's Scott Dadich, Samsung Mobile's Gavin Kim and StackOverflow co-creator Joel Spolsky explained how reports of the death of the Web have been greatly exaggerated.

A lot of problems with Web browsers are structural. Conventional HTML doesn't support the interactivity or engagement that make iPad apps so appealing. "The typography and presentation of the story is paramount," Dadich said. "In an app world, design is as much content as the story is itself. On the iPad or iPhone, there's more room for flexibility and creativity." "On the website, content it's easy, clean, simple and easy to maintain," Kim added. "But the interesting trend is where we see application development focus on depth of experience. For consumers, it's all about engagement and the depth of experience, and right now that isn't something that regular browsers can offer."

But those issues aren't as permanent as they seem; the Web just needs time to adjust to a highly mobile, highly engaged audience. "IPhone and iPad apps that aren't on the Web may eventually go away once the reasons go away, like better Internet access on the subway or better caching functionality on a mobile home screen," Spolsky said. "Whatever reasons exist for making standalone apps instead of websites, there are legitimate reasons, but HTML has a reason to get better and better. HTML5 is becoming increasingly more flexible; it goes a long way further, and we're running out of excuses to not make things HTML5."

Even more important, apps lack a crucial feature that defines content consumption trends: the capacity for sharing and socializing, the ability to allow people to engage the social media stratosphere. The walled garden of apps may hold amazing interactive content, but it doesn't matter if you can't share it. Moderator Arden Pennell of Business Insider pointed out to Dadich that the New Yorker iPad app lacks any sharing functionality. "We've toyed with the idea of tiered subscriptions that shape sharing," Dadich said. Sharing is of value to people. People will pay for the opportunity to share."

It's also unlikely that apps will share the same ubiquity and utility of the multitude of destinations on the wild Web. "Some functions just aren't conducive to apps," Kim said. "Apps are best for an incumbent brand that already have a legacy and people want to get it. Most people use the same applications, the same 35 or so, despite the hundred trillion other apps that most people don't really use. Getting above the fray is very very challenging, and there isn't much incentive to pour resources into doing so."

At some point, the Web may advance in accessibility, interactivity and functionality to the point where we don't need standalone apps. But in the meantime, content owners are looking at apps as a way to sell content. Apps won't be the replacement for the Web browser, it seems, but its temporary savior.

More from Business Insider's IGNITION: Future of Media conference:

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Jared Keller is a former associate editor for The Atlantic and The Atlantic Wire and has also written for Lapham's Quarterly's Deja Vu blog, National Journal's The Hotline, Boston's Weekly Dig, and Preservation magazine. 

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