If you missed the sad news that the Web is Dead, callously broken by Wired, you were probably too busy playing Angry birds on your iPad. Chris Anderson and Michael Wolff sketch out a scenario in which we a) all want more convenience and ease and b) industrial economics have caught up with the web.
The article encourages the idea that the open web is becoming an unfashionable part of cyburbia, where the houses are boarded up and Tim Berners-Lee bravely keeps the unprofitable corner shop going so elderly utopians can still get milk and Rizlas. The rest of us have decamped to Jobstown, a gated community, where there is a giant Tesco, a farmers’ market, and no graffiti.
There are seemingly daily occurrences which stoke the Zeitgeist that drives this argument. There is undeniably a commercial move away from the open web, both in terms of rampant app sales and the current realignment conducted not by government, but by big business such as Google and Verizon, which threatens the principle of net neutrality. These subjects receive significant coverage as they directly feed into the future of the businesses charged with reporting them.
Edited highlights of the many counter arguments to the Anderson Wolff web death argument include the succinct response from Rob Beschizza at Boing Boing . Inconveniently this pointed out that on an evidence-based reading of the stats, the argument that it was all over for the web was simply wrong. A follow-up by John Naughton went one step further in naming what he saw as the vested interests informing the journalism :
“That’s the message. Now, who is the messenger? Answer: Condé Nast, the publishing conglomerate that owns Wired — as well as the New Yorker, GQ and Vanity Fair.
The web has posed a serious threat to their business model (as it has to almost all print publishers) because they have thus far failed to find a way to get people to pay serious money for online content. The arrival of iPhone (and, later, iPad) apps was the first good news that magazine conglomerates had received in a decade. Why? Because, in contrast to the Wild West Web, apps are tightly controlled (by Apple) and consumers willingly pay for them. As a result, print publishers have fallen on the apps idea like ravening wolves. It enables them to exert tight control over the content, prevent sharing and earn revenue. It represents, in short, the glorious online future.”
I can only imagine the number of hapless web strategists within publishing organisations who found themselves of the receiving end of the Wired link last week. High octane arguments about the future of internet publishing are stimulating, great fun and only become problematic when they form the basis for strategic expenditure.
Even if one foolishly buys the idea that the open web is about to croak, it would still be premature to bet the farm on one alternative version of the future. Or would it? We’ve all been intrigued by the news that Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp is considering an app-only news service and has even hired top talent to get it off the ground. But why launch yet another digital product which needs separate support and marketing when you are already struggling to know what to do with the ones you have?
Why News Corp, which really wants no part of the open web, doesn’t just close its websites and put its news products into paid for apps only is a mystery. The Times as app only makes much more sense than a paywalled website. The horse would finally be fit for the course. Indeed any publisher that has decided the web model is irrevocably broken or that giving content away is somehow morally abhorrent (as well as financially inconvenient) should do the same. It is simply much more efficient than worrying about how to protect a closed object on an open network. If Wired truly believes the web is dead then it’s wasting time and resource making its articles available online.
Flippancy aside, many publishers will have to look at how efficiently they staff and maintain websites in the future, if they simultaneously have to extend their stretch across an increasing number of distribution platforms. The web is not dead, or even, in a Pythonesque fashion, ‘resting’. The deep psychological need publishers might have to wish it dead, so eloquently played out in the Wired article, should not distract them from the fact that they are faced with more complex choices than ever.