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Wired Magazine Declares 'The Death of the Web': Premature, or Just Wrong?

Aug 17, 2010 – 3:20 PM
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(Aug. 17) -- You are reading these words on a soon-to-be obsolete medium, at least according to Wired magazine.

"The Web is Dead. Long Live the Internet," reads the sensational headline to the lead article (or rather, two articles placed side-by-side) of the September issue, co-written by Wired editor-in-chief Chris Anderson and Newser founder Michael Wolff.

First off, before we get to their arguments, let's review the distinction between the two commonly conflated networks, as About.com explains:
The Internet and the World Wide Web have a whole-to-part relationship. The Internet is the large container, and the Web is a part within the container. It is common in daily conversation to abbreviate them as the "Net" and the "Web", and then swap the words interchangeably. But to be technically precise, the Net is the restaurant, and the Web is the most popular dish on the menu.

1: The Internet is a Big Collection of Computers and Cables....
2: The Web Is a Big Collection of HTML Pages on the Internet.
Going off that analogy, Anderson and Wolff are not suggesting that the restaurant would stop serving one of its best and most popular dishes, are they?

Well, sort of: Thanks to the explosive popularity of mobile phone applications and social media, they explain (with the help of one very technicolor chart) people are spending increasingly more time accessing information on "semi-closed" or "dedicated" networks -- think Facebook, Twitter, iTunes -- than the wide-open Web itself.

Taken to its logical endpoint, this argument might see the end of the Web as the primary vessel of content distribution and information consumption. But Anderson and Wolff don't go quite that far, instead clarifying that the Web's time is indeed up, but basically only as the primary digital marketplace, i.e., where people go to pay for information, or exchange some of their information for some of someone else's.

What will the future portend?As Wolff writes "We are returning to a world that already exists -- one in which we chase the transformative effects of music and film instead of our brief (relatively speaking) flirtation with the transformative effects of the Web."

But as with any grand tech prognostication, more than a few grains of salt are necessary for digestion. The death card has been dealt on many a technological fad in the past, as I explained earlier this year when Google's European chief John Herlihy predicted the rapidly-approaching "irrelevance" of the desktop computer by 2013.

Indeed, already, in the few hours since the article went live, other bloggers have begun poking and prodding holes through the article's central thesis.

TechCrunch
's Erick Schonfeld, for one, noted that the Web browser remains and is likely to endure as the most popular method for accessing content on the Internet:
These shifts happen in waves. First the browser took over everything, then developers wanted more options and moved to apps (desktop and mobile), but the browser will eventually absorb those features, and so the leapfrogging continues. The ubiquity of the browser overcomes most of its technical deficiencies. Even in mobile, people will become overwhelmed by apps and the browser will make a comeback.
Over at Boing Boing, Rob Beschizza reworked Wired's graph and discovered that "it doesn't even seem to be the case that the Web's ongoing growth has slowed. It's rather been joined by even more explosive growth in file-sharing and video, which is often embedded in the Web in any case."
Plus, as The Atlantic's Derek Thompson keenly observed when news of this cover story first leaked at the beginning of the month: "It's an interesting story. It might even have the virtue of being true. But Chris Anderson won't be the first person to (allegedly) declare the Web dead." And it's still here, after all of that. Surf's up, dudes.
Filed under: Nation, Tech, Surge Desk

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