First of all, an adjustment/correction to yesterday’s story: Facebook pushed back its rollout of Timeline across all accounts until tomorrow, the 31st. Facebook did this rather quietly and did not state why, but you now have about 20 hours to get your Timeline up-and-running,. (Thanks to for the heads-up!)
Today’s tech topic is related in so far as it is about how we interact with Facebook and other online services in new ways. The traditional ‘internet via browser’ model is fading away, to be replaced by a more precise paradigm − one that moves us from our mobile devices directly to the service/platform/medium that we want. The opportunity it presents will streamline, and perhaps redefine, the internet as we knew it. How?
The Pew Internet and American Life Project has recently released a report in response to an article by Chris Anderson and Michael Wolff at Wired Magazine entitled ‘The Web Is Dead. Long Live The Internet‘:
Over the past few years, one of the most important shifts in the digital world has been the move from the wide-open Web to semiclosed platforms that use the Internet for transport but not the browser for display. It’s driven primarily by the rise of the iPhone model of mobile computing, and it’s a world Google can’t crawl, one where HTML doesn’t rule. And it’s the world that consumers are increasingly choosing, not because they’re rejecting the idea of the Web but because these dedicated platforms often just work better or fit better into their lives (the screen comes to them, they don’t have to go to the screen).
Their analysis is that the drive for openness − best understood as the Google paradigm of opening your browser to Google, searching for your X, then clicking on what seems like the best X − has been replaced by the desire to open an app that takes you directly to the Y on the internet that you wanted in the first place. The supplier of that Y has the opportunity to bypass Google’s SEO and control to reach out, and hang onto, customers using the app. They largely credit (blame?) the iPhone and iPad for this shift.
“According to estimates by Cisco, by 2016 there will be 10 billion mobile Internet devices in use globally. The world population is expected to be 7.3 billion in 2016, so that’s 1.4 devices per person on the planet. Smartphone traffic will grow to 50 times the size it is today by 2016.” (from the Pew report’s introduction). And customers largely prefer the convenience of opening the apps they can download for free (mostly) to get right to the products and services they already know they want.
In this latest Pew study, 59% of respondents agreed with the proposition that “…The open Web continues to thrive and grow as a vibrant place where most people do most of their work, play, communication, and content creation. Apps accessed through iPads, Kindles, Nooks, smartphones, Droid devices, and their progeny—the online tools GigaOM referred to as “the anti-Internet”—will be useful as specialized options for a finite number of information and entertainment functions…”
But Anderson and Wolff, and others, argue that this ‘anti internet is indeed adjusting the ways we use and understand the web. Rather than a vast network or cloud of possible connections, we will want to go directly to the service we have already invested money and/or time to find: “The Web is, after all, just one of many applications that exist on the Internet, which uses the IP and TCP protocols to move packets around. This architecture — not the specific applications built on top of it — is the revolution. Today the content you see in your browser accounts for less than a quarter of the traffic on the Internet … and it’s shrinking. The applications that account for more of the Internet’s traffic include peer-to-peer file transfers, email, company VPNs, the machine-to-machine communications of APIs, Skype calls,World of Warcraft and other online games, Xbox Live, iTunes, voice-over-IP phones, iChat, and Netflix movie streaming. Many of the newer Net applications are closed, often proprietary, networks.”
In the business world, the internet might look ever more like the competition for shoppers to come to brick-and-mortar stores: advertising and steering the customer to your particular store offers opportunity to keep that customer coming back (In contrast, the open web model was rather like all the grocery stores appearing in one huge strip mall, and the shopper could browse among the stores for the best price in apples or cereal or root beer).
But for nonprofits? A likely concern is that larger nonprofits, those with budgets to develop dedicated apps, will grow ever more influential whereas smaller nonprofits will have to develop ways to get ever fewer (human) web browsers to ‘discover’ their sites and stay with them. That said, app development is not a particularly difficult technology, so it should not be perceived as a prohibitive barrier to adjusting outreach strategies. But the sooner even smaller sites consider those changes, the better.