Breaking News: The Web and Other Abstract Entities "Die"

May 2, 2018

The Internet is obsessed with death.

Life vs. Death

Number of Google results, in millions, for "is alive" and "is dead."

The following is a partial list of entities that the Internet (as reported by Google) has declared dead in the past year:

  • Love
  • Microsoft Kin
  • Google Wave
  • "Authentic"
  • The Avant-Garde
  • Print
  • The Book
  • The Page
  • Blogs
  • Flash
  • HP Slate
  • Open Office
  • Email
  • The Phone Call
  • Jazz
  • Chivalry

And the latest: the Web. Yes, the Internet has declared the Web dead. Is that an oxymoron? No, not really—there's a subtle difference between the Internet and the Web, according to Chris Anderson and Michael Wolff, in a Wired article published on Tuesday:

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). The fact that it’s easier for companies to make money on these platforms only cements the trend. Producers and consumers agree: The Web is not the culmination of the digital revolution.

Of course, Prince thinks the Internet is dead too. But back to Wired. Back in 1997, they were predicting the same thing:

Remember the browser war between Netscape and Microsoft? Well forget it. The Web browser itself is about to croak. And good riddance. In its place ... broader and deeper new interfaces for electronic media are being born.

Although the technologies they expected to lead the way beyond the Web were wrong, Wired says they had it basically right. The Web was dying, now it's dead. Anderson and Wolff argue that most people spend far more time using apps, closed systems like Facebook, video, and peer-to-peer communications than the open Web when they're online. This is all, they say, being driven by the iPhone and other mobile devices—people want access where and when they want it, to exactly what they want: "Fast beats flexible." And we're less interested in finding cool new sites than tapping into what we already know we like: "Our appetite for discovery slows as our familiarity with the status quo grows."

This is interesting in light of last week's brouhaha over net neutrality (Net neutrality? Also dead, BTW), following a joint proposal by Google and Verizon for neutral wired broadband and not-so-neutral wireless. This had Wired and everybody else (who even noticed) up in arms—if mobile is the future, we don't want a few massive corporations controlling it. But control is clearly already an issue:

At the application layer, the open Internet has always been a fiction. It was only because we confused the Web with the Net that we didn’t see it. The rise of machine-to-machine communications — iPhone apps talking to Twitter APIs — is all about control. Every API comes with terms of service, and Twitter, Amazon.com, Google, or any other company can control the use as they will. We are choosing a new form of QoS: custom applications that just work, thanks to cached content and local code. Every time you pick an iPhone app instead of a Web site, you are voting with your finger: A better experience is worth paying for, either in cash or in implicit acceptance of a non-Web standard.

As surely as the sun comes up, it will go down, and as surely as someone on the Internet declares something dead, someone else will call bullshit. How are people responding to the piece?

BoingBoing's Rob Beschizza says the graph that anchors the piece is very misleading, because it fails to show that the Web is still growing exponentially, even if it accounts for a smaller proportion of total Internet use than it did twenty years ago. He also points out that bandwidth isn't a good measure of importance. As one commenter says, "An email, text, tweet, etc. all put together may take up less than one one thousandth the bandwidth of a youtube video—that doesn't mean that video is one thousand times as important or alive."

At the Atlantic, Alexis Madrigal argues that the whole "X is dead" mentality is problematic: "the technological worldview that says, 'The new inevitably destroys the old,' is fundamentally flawed … Serious technology scholars long ago discarded the idea that tech was just a series of increasingly awesomer things that successively displace each other."

On TechCrunch, Erick Schonfeld questions, like others, what Wired is counting as video, since YouTube is part of the Web; he also says that "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."

Gawker focuses on the irony of Wired's story, which was released "first to the Web, on Wired.com. You won't find it in Wired's iPad edition, and it's not out in print yet. The death of the web might be the 'inevitable course of capitalism,' but it apparently pays better to deliver that news via a dying medium." Gawker also points out that Wired's web revenues are up, while its iPad circulation is down.

But in a way, agreeing or disagreeing with the article is beside the point. Declarations are going the same way as fast-food sandwiches. Who cares if it's true/good? It's all linkbait.

Internet Marketing Highlights This Week

What do your PPC ads say about you? Learn how to send the right message in this post from PPC Hero.

PPC Blog has tips for mastering the content network.

Justin Kownacki lists 10 tips for reducing distractions at work, such as cutting off long email chains with a simple "Got it."

Google CEO Eric Schmidt has gotten really good at outlandish remarks that make him look like a jerk. Recently he suggested that kids change their names when to get to adulthood if too much of their private info has found its way online.

Debra Mastaler uses Matt Cutts as a case study for "smart linking."

Bruce Clay was live-blogging SES San Francisco sessions all week; check out Bryan Eisenberg's 21 secrets of top-converting websites.

David Naylor says the Google AdWords Keyword Tool is unreliable for SEO. (Note Alan Bleiweiss's comment on Sphinn that it's still useful for trending information.)

Have a great weekend, folks.

Elisa Gabbert

Elisa Gabbert

Elisa Gabbert is WordStream's Director of Content and SEO. Likes include wine, karaoke, poker, ping-pong, perfume, and poetry.

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