The Web Site: a moribund metaphor
April 29, 2010
Discussions at work about Steve Job’s recently published thoughts on flash brought up an interesting question: is Jobs trying to tell us that there is no point in making Web sites any more, and that we should all be building apps for iPhone™? And… is he right?
Yes, and No.
The Web as an information ecosystem is not in danger.
Web technologies are not in danger. On the contrary: said Steve, in his thoughts about flash, raves about the open technologies built at W3C, like HTML5 or CSS. [for more on this, see my previous post about the iphone developer agreement.]
On the other hand, the paradigm of the web “site” as a space you travel to is, I believe, moribund. It is a major shift that finds its origin, among other things, in the development of mobiles.
Before the emergence of the mobile internet devices (laptops, smartphones, netbooks, tablets and so on) our perception was that the computer was transporting us (nay – teleporting?) to the internets. Hence the metaphor and the semantics used: site, navigator, compass, “go to Yahoo”. Said metaphor also spawned the first generations of virtual reality; said metaphor was acutely present in portals/platforms such as geocities, where all the sites were organised in virtual cities and neighbourhoods.
With the arrival of wi-fi and reliable connectivity on cellular phone networks, the thinking is reversed. We are always mobile, always going somewhere, and the Web is following us around. And since the Web and its information ecosystem is always available, we are getting used to responding to immediate needs: here, and now.
Hence the emergence of a new metaphor and a new economy around it.
Exit Geocities (RIP, indeed, 1994 – 2009), exit the “web site”. Enter ubiquitous services, aimed at solving a particular problem or serving a particular need. Right now, this new metaphor is best served by proprietary apps and web widgets, but the shape of these services may change. The future will tell us if Apple (or someone else) wins the dominance game, or if the fragmentation in the “app stores” market will kill that model, as people such as PPK seem to believe.
My bet, regardless, is that the “paradigm shift” (buzzword alert!) from the web sites to the ubiquitous web services, is durable.
Stereotypes in work-roles and groupthink within company subcultures.