Wired, The Wall and the Huffington Post have all pronounced the web on its last legs. Wired appears to believe that because there’s a popular new way of interfacing with the internet – apps – the web has had its last hurrah. Huff’s Josh Silver bases his pronouncement on the news that Google and Verizon have done a deal that may make it possible to have a privileged access scheme for content providers disseminating video to customers.
This latter is the one I think has least relevance. Why? Well, although this time round it is different inasmuch as the faster access is paid for by the content provider rather than the content consumer, there’s little difference in practical terms between the tiered access dictated by bandwidth, ISP quality and client technology and the tiered access posited by the new deal. Silver’s argument that Google’s universal access volte-face signals some kind of tipping point, one that will see content delivered only to the wealthier subscriber, to me seems no different to the gradient we’ve always suffered. My first forays onto the internet were hampered by the fact that no-one made modem software for Macs at the time. Did it destroy the web or limit its potential for democratised information? Clearly not.
Perhaps we won’t see the web become a public access TV channel after all as a result. But then, to the extent that it could it already has. YouTube is gargantuan. Will Hollywood or Bollywood stop making feature films for free distribution on the web? Did anyone really expect them ever to really do that? The web is a medium, a set of protocols, and people all over the world will use it freely to do what they always wanted to do with it. Capitalists will find ways to make money from it. Anti-capitalists will use it to subvert. People will continue to use it to grow this unfettered global conversation
And coming back to apps, they are simply an abbreviated interface to the internet, just as the web is. Perhaps one day there will be a better interface that comes along that is so revolutionary that the whole idea of HTML and hyperlinks is relegated to history, as happened to the revolutionary precursor protocols that saw us Gophering before the web took off (though Gopher’s demise was hastened when its owner started charging for it, something that no-one is suggesting can or will ever happen to the web). Apps are cute, cool, capitalist by design, and ephemeral.
Actually the best apps seem to be built in HTML. The web is alive and well and only just coming of age. Long live the web.