Another Journalist Seduced By App Madness Predicts The End Of The Web

from the ah,-technology dept

We've talked a few times about the media's obsession with "apps" as the solution to what ails them. They get one glance at the control that an app appears to provide, and they go wobbly in the knees and fail to consider basic trends and basic economics. As a few folks have noted, locked down apps are like the CD-ROM craze among media types just as the web first became popular. Who won that battle?

The latest reporter to fall under the sway of the app-run future is The Atlantic's Michael Hirschorn -- a writer who's work I usually like quite a bit. He writes eloquently about the "closing of the digital frontier," and predicts that the days of the browser are dying, as the days of the app are rising. In the process, he misleadingly attacks the basic economics of free, the history of Silicon Valley, and some rather important trends.

He kicks it off, as nearly all attacks on the economics of digital goods does these days, by mocking the old "information wants to be free" phrase, which he falsely suggests led the world astray. Rather than recognizing the basic economic forces that made (and still make) digital goods to be driven towards free, he pretends it's just an idea a bunch of "hippies" had -- that somehow hypnotized everyone else:
With the long tail of Brand's dictum chopped off, the phrase Information wants to be free--dissected, debated, reconstituted as a global democratic rallying cry against monsters of the political, business, and media elites--became perhaps the most powerful meme of the past quarter century; so powerful, in fact, that multibillion-dollar corporations destroyed their own businesses at its altar.

It's a bit of a Schrodinger's-cat situation when you try to determine what would have happened if we had not bought into the IWTBF mantra, but by the time digital culture exploded into the mainstream with the introduction first of the Mosaic browser and then of Netscape Navigator and Internet Explorer, in the mid-'90s, free was already an idea only the very old or very obtuse dared to contradict.
Of course, it wasn't some blind support for a mantra that resulted in so much being free online. It was the basic economics of content, and a recognition of how those models can work. But, Hirschorn is so sold on this idea that "free" was just the pipedream of a bunch of digital hippies someone tricked the rest of the world into buying, that the one story he uses to explain this sense of "gospel" actually seems to disprove his point. He actually suggests that the fact that the online world quickly and decisively debunked the infamous 1995 Time Magazine technopanic about online porn is an example of the unwillingness of the digerati to be open to new ideas:
At the WELL, the core gospel of an open Web was upheld with such rigor that when one of its more prolific members, Time magazine's Philip Elmer-DeWitt, published a scare-the-old-folks cover story on cyber porn in 1995, which carried the implication that some measure of online censorship might not be a bad thing, he and his apostasy were torn to pieces by his fellow WELL-ites with breathtaking relentlessness.... In retrospect, what seems notable is the fervor with which digital correctness--the idea that the unencumbered flow of everything, including porn, must be defended--was being enforced. In the WELL's hierarchy of values, pure freedom was an immutable principle, even if the underlying truth (that porn of all kinds was and would be increasingly ubiquitous on the Web, with actual real-life consequences) was ugly and incontestable.
Now, I put a brief ellipsis in the middle of that paragraph, because right in the middle, Hirschorn hides the key fact: that those folks who pointed out the massive problems with the story were correct! Hirschorn basically tries to hide that point in the middle of the paragraph, where the beginning and the end of the paragraph suggest that people pointing out the massive flaws and outright ridiculousness of both the "study" and the Time report based on the study, were somehow overreacting in this religious fervor to sustain the digital wild west. The fact that Hirschorn even admits that the study was flawed, and then still claims the debunking was "political correctness" is bizarre and, quite frankly, insulting. Those who responded to the report didn't do so out of some "porn must be free" ethos. They did so out of a belief that truth is more important than blatant lies.

Hirschorn then goes on to make a stunningly ignorant statement concerning how the entertainment industry responded to the "open and free" internet:
Ironically, only the "old" entertainment and media industries, it seems, took open and free literally, striving to prove that they were fit for the digital era's freewheeling information/entertainment bazaar by making their most expensively produced products available for free on the Internet. As a result, they undermined in little more than a decade a value proposition they had spent more than a century building up.
Wait. Which "old" entertainment industry is he talking about here that put its most expensively produced products onto the internet for free? Last I checked, we seem to have a new story pretty much every single day about just how hard the old entertainment industry is fighting to stop its content from being online for free. Furthermore, in the few cases where they have put stuff online for free, it's not because they were "striving to prove they were fit for the digital era's freewheeling information/entertainment bazaar," but because they were dragged kicking and screaming after someone pointed out to them that others had already put all their content online for free, and that if you put your content online, you actually had some ability to monetize it -- whereas, if you left it to everyone else, you made that more difficult. Somehow Hirschorn doesn't know this. It makes me wonder if he even uses the same internet the rest of us use.

This is the myth of "the original sin of free" all over again, where otherwise smart people think the decision of some to go free wasn't actually driven by marketforces, and that there actually was a different choice back then. These forgetful souls don't want to acknowledge that paywalls and micropayments have been tried time and time again since the early days of the web -- and they almost all have failed.
But now, it seems, things are changing all over again. The shift of the digital frontier from the Web, where the browser ruled supreme, to the smart phone, where the app and the pricing plan now hold sway, signals a radical shift from openness to a degree of closed-ness that would have been remarkable even before 1995. In the U.S., there are only three major cell-phone networks, a handful of smart-phone makers, and just one Apple, a company that has spent the entire Internet era fighting the idea of open (as anyone who has tried to move legally purchased digital downloads among devices can attest).
It's a weird sort of argument that plays up the benefits of a lack of competition in the marketplace.
Apple, for once, is swimming with the tide. After 15 years of fruitless experimentation, media companies are realizing that an advertising-supported model is not the way to succeed on the Web and they are, at last, seeking to get consumers to pay for their content.
Actually, plenty of media companies are finding that an ad-supported model works great. And, yes, while many publications are seeking to get consumers to pay, history has shown that it doesn't tend to work very well in the long run.
They are operating on the largely correct assumption that people will be more likely to pay for consumer-friendly apps via the iPad, and a multitude of competing devices due out this year, than they are to subscribe to the same old kludgy Web site they have been using freely for years. As a result, media companies will soon be pushing their best and most timely content through their apps instead of their Web sites.
That's one theory, but it seems unlikely beyond a certain niche. Yes, people will pay for some apps. But already some are realizing that the web itself is actually better. And, the key point that so few app-afficionados seem to recognize is that apps and websites really aren't that different. Most of the things that an app can do can also be done on the web. And, as HTML5 starts to catch on, the web will be able to do even more. Hell, the dirty little secret out there (which isn't really a secret -- it's just that a lot of folks praising apps don't realize it) is that a good percentage of these "apps" that they're so amazed by? They're really webpages. They're really HTML that's wrapped in a little app container. But there's no reason they can't just be HTML -- and as the inevitable market forces continue, many are likely to move to the web, and get out from under the withering thumb of control of Steve Jobs.
On a more conceptual level, the move from the browser model to the app model (where content is more likely to be accessed via smartly curated "stores" like iTunes, Amazon, or Netflix) signals the first real taming of the Wild Digital West.
Statements like this remind me back of the days when people would load up their computer desktops with all sorts of apps as well. And then the web got good. Those who don't know their history are doomed to miss the fact that it's about to repeat...
Apple's version of the West has nice white picket fences, clapboard houses, morals police, and lots of clean, well-organized places to spend money. (The Internet, it seems, is finally safe for Rupert Murdoch.) These shifts are seemingly subtle, but they may prove profound.
AOL's version of the West, back in the 90s, also had nice white picket fences, clapboard houses, morals police and lots of clean, well-organized places to spend money. And then people discovered the web. And all that got abandoned quickly.

Like the AOL of the 90s, it is true that the closed platform of the iPhone offers a nice on-ramp for people to learn how smartphones can work, and what they can do. But, in the long run, the openness of and raw innovation of the open internet won out. Why does Hirschorn think that the same won't happen again? Oddly, when he does get around to Google -- who is providing one extremely popular open road -- he repaints Google's position as being on the defensive and trying to preserve an old business model:
Google, which built its once monopolistic position by harnessing the chaos of Web search, has been forced to move aggressively to preserve its business model against this new competition: it has teamed up with the Apple-scorned Flash; is making conciliatory gestures to the content owners it once patronized; has reached a deal to purchase a mobile ad-sales platform; and is promoting its own vision of the future based on cloud computing. Phones using its open-source smart-phone operating system, Android, are outselling the iPhone. Even so, Google still needs for the Web, however it's accessed, to remain central--because without contextual search advertising, Google ceases to matter. Smart phones in general, and the iPad more pointedly, are not driven by search.
Again, most apps actually are just webpages. And there isn't anything about Google's business model that requires the web to be central. I have plenty of apps on my Android phone that have Google contextual ads. Also, the last point: that smartphones are not driven by search, seems utterly bizarre to me. I use search pretty damn frequently on my phone.
All of this suggests that the era of browser dominance is coming to a close.
Except that most of the points leading up to that conclusion weren't substantiated or were blatantly wrong.

And then, Hirschorn really goes off the deep-end. He brings back up the importance of paywalls, which leads to this doozy of a statement:
If they don't end up licensing original content, networks such as Twitter and Facebook will become purely communication vehicles.
Wait, what?!? Twitter and Facebook are communication tools. That's why people use them. What does he think they are? That's like saying, a century ago, that if the phone company doesn't license radio programs, the telephone might just be used for communication.

Honestly, this article is one of the more bizarre ones I've read in this style. It's as if it's written by someone living in an alternate universe, and has no access to history or general computing trends.


Reader Comments (rss)

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    Thomas (profile), Jul 1st, 2010 @ 12:27pm

    "...dragged kicking and screaming..."

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 1st, 2010 @ 12:56pm

    "Honestly, this article is one of the more bizarre ones I've read in this style. It's as if it's written by someone living in an alternate universe, and has no access to history or general computing trends."

    More like being paid moolah to forget history, or has drunk too much of the multicolored cool aide (spelling intentional)

     

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    Hephaestus (profile), Jul 1st, 2010 @ 1:09pm

    "Honestly, this article is one of the more bizarre ones I've read in this style. "

    Has he disclosed if he owns shares in apple, if he has been provided any products by apple, of if he is being paid by apple to promote their products?


    "It's as if it's written by someone living in an alternate universe, and has no access to history or general computing trends."

    Maybe he has been hanging out with people from RIAA, MPAA, and Rupert Murdoch. I know that insanity is not contagious but these people are making me wonder.

     

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    GreenGiant, Jul 1st, 2010 @ 1:14pm

    When I look at the apps currently on my iphone, i mostly see apps that are somehow apps on my pc as well and the ones that are parsers of website-information tend to be free ones.

    Webapps had a rough start, I guess because iphones were the only game in town for a while. Perhaps improvements in other phones will bring them further in the limelight as smalltime developers will probably not have time to develop apps for 3 or 4 types of phones.

     

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    senshikaze (profile), Jul 1st, 2010 @ 1:14pm

    im surprised the anti-free(dom) Hirschorn didn't bash google for using open source software in it's OS(s). I mean, what the hell? obviously those of us who do actually believe in free(dom) are radical extremists. and open source should the anti-thesis to his entire life it seems.

    I think this f-cker is confused on the definition between Libre and gratis, or free in English. what most people want is a free(libre) internet. I am okay with spending money, and making money on the internet, I am not okay with denying access for profits. If you have something worth buying, i will buy it. news? not worth it when i can get it for free(gratis) almost anywhere else. music is worth money. movies are worth money. books are worth money.
    random words from a "reporter" that may or may not be actually true, but are passed off as true (see porn article above)? not worth money.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Jul 1st, 2010 @ 1:28pm

      Re:

      the big thing, to me, about that quote that it pretty much predicted the current battle between free information and paid information to a tee.

      On top of that there is of course your correct observation that free can also be explained as "libre" and not as "gratis". which is what the shortened version is about.

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Jul 1st, 2010 @ 1:40pm

      Re:

      Oddly this is the best description between free internet and the internet for free I have seen.

       

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    Mike42 (profile), Jul 1st, 2010 @ 1:30pm

    Come on you guys...

    This isn't a conspiracy against free(dom)! His grandkids got him an iPhone for Christmas, and he's still enamored by the glowing fruit!

    You just read too much into things...

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 1st, 2010 @ 1:32pm

    Isn't this just an extremely tl;dr version of the old "I'm counting on a third-party (Apple) to save my business"? I think it has been discussed in the past here, and also by Cory Doctorow... and it always ends up sounding silly.

     

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    Garrett, Jul 1st, 2010 @ 1:41pm

    So this guy dreams of a future where we all have hundreds or perhaps thousands of separate, different, paid apps on our phones? Each one for a different company or site or e-publication?

    And none of them should be free? Entities will make enough money by getting someone to pay a one-time app cost? Since he is not a fan of ad revenue, he would need these apps prices to skyrocket.

    And he thinks this will take off because its more consumer friendly and simpler than a browser?

     

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    Jeremy2020 (profile), Jul 1st, 2010 @ 1:56pm

    The article screams 'Paid for by..'

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 1st, 2010 @ 1:58pm

    Heck, Google deleted some apps remotely recently and it is saying it is a security feature LoL

    http://android-developers.blogspot.com/2010/06/exercising-our-remote-application.html

    You just can trust those people to handle the networks at some point the will abuse it. Not Google, not apple not anyone, time for arduino.

     

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    hirschorn (profile), Jul 1st, 2010 @ 2:15pm

    hmmm

    A lot to respond to here and i think you make some good points, but i think you're kind of willfully misrepresenting my point of view on the issue at hand. I am, all your sarcasm aside, in favor of freedom, open source, and digital anarchy in general, something you have somewhat carefully elided from your gloss on my essay. My piece was largely an attack on Apple's efforts to curtail that freedom ("freedom from porn," among other things) and to find ways to rein in the open-plains marauding afforded by the browser-driven internet. Clearly and obviously, smartphones and ipads are tailored, curated experiences that are under the control (up to a point) of gatekeepers who can decide what we can and can't see (including, for example, flash). Also clearly and obviously, the rise of mobile computing will result in less non-mobile computing and the center of power will move from the browser to the smartphone/ipad experience (see, for example, Asia). This seemingly subtle shift could have a profound impact. I think in your haste to come digitally correct, you're failing to see how vestigial the browser could become in the near future. Not will. Could. Just because things are a certain way now, doesn't mean they will always be that way. To parrot one of the more dickish commentators, perhaps your grandchildren could explain that to you.

     

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      jjmsan (profile), Jul 1st, 2010 @ 2:27pm

      Re: hmmm

      "and to find ways to rein in the open-plains marauding afforded by the browser-driven internet." Which needs to be done why? Did you miss when this all started up and sites charged for everything? They stopped because the price point moved toward zero. Plus no one uses just the smartphones you need a computer to really work.

       

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        hirschorn (profile), Jul 1st, 2010 @ 2:33pm

        Re: Re: hmmm

        apple appears to want to rein in the free internet. that is obvious, no? which sites are you referring to that charged for everything?

         

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          Modplan (profile), Jul 1st, 2010 @ 3:24pm

          Re: Re: Re: hmmm

          Reining in the free internet by conforming too and even pushing modern web standards and making regular use of free, open source components in its OS. That's really fighting the idea of open...

           

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        Katherine Warman Kern (profile), Jul 3rd, 2010 @ 5:51am

        Re: Re: hmmm

        "'. . . find ways to rein in the open-plains marauding afforded by the browser-driven internet.' Which needs to be done why?"

        I don't think Hirschorn is saying that "Apps" designed to "rein in the open-plains" will be "IT". But success will be realized by learning from these experiments. There will be change and it will be worth paying for.

        Why? The opportunity to improve upon entertainment value/discovery value and improve the quality of content on both the web and traditional media is just massive.

        The battle has moved to a new front. Established media is looking to take advantage of the flaws of the internet as it exists today. The "tech" community should be gearing up, but instead, seems to be echoing traditional media's past denial that there are flaws with "what is".

        No one said the archive of information and browser technology will be destroyed. There is no threat to the notion of "freedom".

        But, there is always opportunity to improve. For example, recognizing flaws to take advantage of. Capitalizing on the advantages of new technology.

        This could be a very exciting time to be in the media business if everyone directs intellectual debate on what could be instead of flinging personal attacks and perpetuating myths as facts.

        By the way, we're looking for "tech" people who want to be a part of developing what could be. So if you are one of those, connect with me on twitter @comradity.

        Katherine Warman Kern
        @comradity

         

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      Mike Masnick (profile), Jul 1st, 2010 @ 3:43pm

      Re: hmmm

      A lot to respond to here and i think you make some good points, but i think you're kind of willfully misrepresenting my point of view on the issue at hand. I am, all your sarcasm aside, in favor of freedom, open source, and digital anarchy in general, something you have somewhat carefully elided from your gloss on my essay. My piece was largely an attack on Apple's efforts to curtail that freedom ("freedom from porn," among other things) and to find ways to rein in the open-plains marauding afforded by the browser-driven internet

      I have to admit that I read your article multiple times in the course of writing up my response and didn't get that impression *at all* from it.

      Clearly and obviously, smartphones and ipads are tailored, curated experiences that are under the control (up to a point) of gatekeepers who can decide what we can and can't see (including, for example, flash).

      I disagree. Unless you mean "*IPHONES and iPads*". There are plenty of more open smartphones that are not curated by gatekeepers. And they're selling quite well these days. So people still have quite a bit of control as to whether or not they're in the walled garden.

      Also clearly and obviously, the rise of mobile computing will result in less non-mobile computing and the center of power will move from the browser to the smartphone/ipad experience (see, for example, Asia).

      Again, you're still basing this on the assumption -- which I don't believe is true -- that all mobile computing is app and gatekeeper-based.

      I think in your haste to come digitally correct

      This is the point that I find most perplexing about your whole piece. You seem to suggest that these views are about some sort of ethos or mantra, rather than actual understanding of the market.

      This is not an effort to "come digitally correct." It's about an effort to be correct.

      you're failing to see how vestigial the browser could become in the near future. Not will. Could.

      Forgive me, but when you say "All of this suggests that the era of browser dominance is coming to a close," that doesn't sound like "could." It sounds like you're saying "will." Apologies if I misread it.

      Just because things are a certain way now, doesn't mean they will always be that way.

      And nowhere did I say that just because things are a certain way now, they will always be that way. In fact, I said the opposite. I suggested that you were seeing the world that way. My whole post described the basic trend lines of digital products, whereby they tend towards more free and open solutions. And it's not because of some digital ethos or mantra. It's because of basic economics. So, while I agree that "things" don't always remain the same, I would argue that basic economics do, in fact, remain the same.

      To parrot one of the more dickish commentators, perhaps your grandchildren could explain that to you.

      :)

       

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      Big Al, Jul 1st, 2010 @ 3:58pm

      Re: hmmm

      To take your quote:
      "the center of power will move from the browser to the smartphone/ipad experience (see, for example, Asia)."
      Asia are certainly insatiable users of smart mobile devices. However, even in this market apps take a back seat to mobile browsers. The web is freely available on all smart devices and, while the main thrust of Apple et al is "Buy our Apps", every device has a very creditable browser installed solely for access to information for free or that is not covered by an app.
      Unfortunately, as Mike pointed out, I believe that your ideal app-based picket-fenced world will fall apart as surely as AOL did.

       

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    John Smith, Jul 1st, 2010 @ 2:18pm

    A Bridge To Far.

    I believe that apps as a salvation for some people is a bridge to far.

     

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    hirschorn (profile), Jul 1st, 2010 @ 2:31pm

    and another thing.... ;)

    i in no way believe the app experience is superior to the browser experience. most apps suck. but i do believe content owners think they can monetize apps in a way they couldn't monetize the web, so they are going to push content to apps at the expense of the web. at th emoment, they are probably right. this will be bad for the web and, ultimately, bad for content owners as well because, as you eloquently argue, the push to free is fairly inexorable. where we disagree is that i believe that print outlets (in particular) that have shunned the web seem to be doing somewhat better in retaining print subscribers and advertisers than those who bought into "free" hook, line, and sinker

     

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      jjmsan (profile), Jul 1st, 2010 @ 2:40pm

      Re: and another thing.... ;)

      The New York Times adopted a limited paywall for their commentary. They eventually had to drop it. I know they talk about doing it again, but quite frankly I think it is likely to fail again. I know I was not interested the first time because while they have interesting writers, there are hundreds of interesting writers and not all of them will charge, so you will alway be competing with free.

       

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      Richard (profile), Jul 1st, 2010 @ 3:25pm

      Re: and another thing.... ;)

      The problem is that the content "owned" by the traditional commercial content owners is a tiny, almost irrelevant, fraction of what is out there on the web. Most of what is out there is put there by people who don't even have an "free content supported by advertising" model - they have a free content which I put there because I want people to see it model. The biggest example is Wikipedia - but most of the pages I visit are like that. A quick survey of my current tabs and recent history reveals.

      1 Youtube
      1 webmail (work)
      2 E-commerce/finance sites
      2 blogs (This one+ Schneier)
      3 Free content for it's own sake
      1 newspaper page (found via Google search)
      2 Online game sites - 1 (very discreetly )ad supported - the other supported by a minority of players who make a voluntary subscription
      The Register (linked from Schneier)

      Usually there would be a Wikipedia entry amongst all this too.

      The point is that this whole ecosystem is almost devoid of "big content". The net is "everyone to everyone" and most people aren't trying to make any money from their content. If big content wants to be in this space then it has to conform to the norms of the space - because it can only ever be a tiny fraction of what is there.

      "i believe that print outlets (in particular) that have shunned the web seem to be doing somewhat better in retaining print subscribers and advertisers than those who bought into "free" hook, line, and sinker"

      Those that have stuck to the domain they know, where they still have a monopoly, may have faired better than those who have made a poor attempt to survive in a new - and to them alien - environment. However it is likely that their customers will gradually drift away (or maybe pass away) so this is not a viable long term strategy.

       

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      Modplan (profile), Jul 1st, 2010 @ 3:26pm

      Re: and another thing.... ;)

      You give no reason why this will be bad for the web. You simply state it's going to happen, even as you admit apps don't provide the same or better experience than the web. It'll just magically be so, because content owners will be able to monetize it better, even as no one wants it and they have no customers due to apps being worse, which you admitted.

       

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    Richard (profile), Jul 1st, 2010 @ 2:38pm

    Even if

    Even if the app market is a success it will always be a tiny fraction of the web.

    The app is like railway travel - it may grow on it's own terms but road transport will always dwarf it - we aren't going back to the 19th century.

    or the supermarket vs the corner shop. A few corner shops may thrive by offering something special - but even their best customers will still go to the supermarket for the weekly shop.

     

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    Dave, Jul 1st, 2010 @ 2:45pm

    Seduced indeed

    I've got to hand it to Steve Jobs, he's succeeded in creating untold numbers of lemmings. Even I'm almost ready to get an IPhone. But the end of the web, that's a good one. Yes, the app thing is tremendously successful, and it seems that he has done what Bill Gates had hoped to do: rope everyone into using his proprietary software.

    But end of the web? No. Big transitions over time in ways that we use the web? Sure.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 1st, 2010 @ 3:22pm

    "plenty of media companies are finding that an ad-supported model works great." - and tons and tons of them are failing on a regular basis. mike, i would figure you would have read burn rate. how many tens of thousands of web startups come and go on the basis of an ad supported model that is non-functional from the word go?

     

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    Richard (profile), Jul 1st, 2010 @ 3:41pm

    "plenty of media companies are finding that an ad-supported model works great." - and tons and tons of them are failing on a regular basis. mike, i would figure you would have read burn rate. how many tens of thousands of web startups come and go on the basis of an ad supported model that is non-functional from the word go?

    The web isn't about making money from selling information it isn't about providing information and making money from adverts - although that does happen. It isn't even about using information to make money elsewhere although that happens too. It is about exchanging information for it's own sake. The web reduces the importance of money because it enables so much to be done on a self funded/voluntary basis by ordinary people.

    If businesses can use the web to make some money good for them - but it doesn't have to happen. The web can live the same way it started, funded by those who want it to exist so that they can use it directly themselves.

     

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    hirschorn (profile), Jul 1st, 2010 @ 4:25pm

    I think we're having a mars and venus problem here. i actually agree with a lot of what you're saying. but one thing i've done in the atlantic is to take a sociological, rather than technical, approach to the internet, or, to use the cliche, a "20,000 foot view." (see, for example, a piece i wrote in 2007 about how Facebook was here to stay and why. some of it turned out to be right, some of it wrong, but i think i framed a way to talk about sites like facebook that made sense to non-techies. http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2007/10/about-facebook/6181/) Similarly, here, I was trying to articulate a sense I had that things were starting to change in some fundamental fashion and that the digital experience in 5 years might be quite different than it is now. Again, i might be right; i might be wrong. But I wanted to change the way people were thinking about iphones and the ipad, and smartphones in general as a different platform than the web. Nowhere do i say, nor do i remotely believe, that the web is "over." But i do believe that the era where browser is the default method of accessing digital content and communication may be coming to an end, challenged by an array of apps and other tools that either work better or will be privileged because content owners believe them, rightly or wrongly, to be more monetizable. I also believe that most people (as opposed to most techies) are willing to be led into cul-de-sacs that might deprive them of free choice. The app, metaphorically, is a false god. Of course, I don't *know* if any of this is true. I'm trying to project out from current trends and connect the dots in a way that they haven't been connected before. I actually hope I'm wrong. Where I get pissy is when the response is the lock-step "you don't get it," "you're old paradigm," "you're bought and paid for" thing. None of us truly know what the future will bring, but i was trying to go out on the limb--far out on the limb, in this case--in an effort to challenge some ingrained assumptions about digital media. anyway, appreciate your thoughtful response and happy to keep the debate going. your blog is an uncommonly smart one

     

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      Mike Masnick (profile), Jul 1st, 2010 @ 4:56pm

      Re:

      I think we're having a mars and venus problem here

      Entirely possible.

      I was trying to articulate a sense I had that things were starting to change in some fundamental fashion and that the digital experience in 5 years might be quite different than it is now. Again, i might be right; i might be wrong.

      I understand that, but the article didn't give off the impression that this was a "might" situation. It gave the impression that this was pretty much a foregone conclusion.

      But I wanted to change the way people were thinking about iphones and the ipad, and smartphones in general as a different platform than the web.

      And I agree that the topic is an interesting one -- but it wasn't the impression I got from your piece, which definitely seemed to push the idea that we were definitely going down this trail, and seemed to cherry pick certain stories, and attribute past trends to "hippyish" views, rather than economic forces.

      But i do believe that the era where browser is the default method of accessing digital content and communication may be coming to an end, challenged by an array of apps and other tools that either work better or will be privileged because content owners believe them, rightly or wrongly, to be more monetizable. I also believe that most people (as opposed to most techies) are willing to be led into cul-de-sacs that might deprive them of free choice.

      My problem with this is that we haven't actually seen the evidence that this is true. There is evidence of it in the short-term, but not the long-term. Hence my comparison to AOL.

      Where I get pissy is when the response is the lock-step "you don't get it," "you're old paradigm," "you're bought and paid for" thing.

      It's the internet. Such comments appear like magic no matter what you say. :) I wouldn't pay too much attention to those that *just* say that. But many of the comments are more substantive, and I think it's unfair to brush those off by suggesting that all of these comments are of the same caliber.

      None of us truly know what the future will bring, but i was trying to go out on the limb--far out on the limb, in this case--in an effort to challenge some ingrained assumptions about digital media.

      Fair enough, but again, that is not the way your story reads.

       

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      murder, Jul 1st, 2010 @ 9:09pm

      Re:

      how the hell are you a journalist?

      look at that atrocious wall of text you just wrote. its inconceivable to believe that horrid writing style came from somebody who actually gets paid to write.

      WTF

       

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        Hephaestus (profile), Jul 2nd, 2010 @ 6:19am

        Re: Re:

        About him being a journalist I will quote him ... "Just because things are a certain way now, doesn't mean they will always be that way." or really ever were to begin with ... Big Ole GRIN

         

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      Richard (profile), Jul 2nd, 2010 @ 1:44am

      Re:

      But i do believe that the era where browser is the default method of accessing digital content and communication may be coming to an end, challenged by an array of apps and other tools that either work better or will be privileged because content owners believe them, rightly or wrongly, to be more monetizable.
      This is where you miss the point. Actually I think that some of the "free" advocates miss the point too.
      You mention "content owners" - meaning (I presume) the various media companies that predated the internet.

      The point is that these "content owners" and their content are actually largely irrelevant. The only content that matters is user generated content. If you look at the big success stories of recent years you will see that they are all based on facilitating user generated content.

      Wikipedia
      Myspace
      Youtube
      Facebook
      Twitter
      Flickr

      These are all fundamentally peer to peer - user generated content sites. Youtube may have quite a lot of professionally produced stuff on it - but it is the user generated material that differentiates it from what went before.

      The point is that each of these developments made it easier for ordinary non-technical people to become content producers - the developments that succeed in future will be those that make this process even easier than it has become already.

      I don't see the App market as a step in that direction - which is why to me it seems like a sideshow.

      Personally I think the big trend of the web - that

       

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      Marcel de Jong (profile), Jul 2nd, 2010 @ 4:20am

      Re:

      The app market is a fraction of users of app-capable devices. And even that market is fragmented, as an Ipad app can't run on an Android device and vice versa.
      And most apps there are in the impulse-buy price-range. I don't think hard for an app that costs me 1 or 2 euros. But for an app that costs me more than 10 euros, I do think twice. And hard, because what exactly am I buying? What do I get in return for that 10 bucks that I can't get anywhere else?

      The internet has loads more users, somewhere in the billions. The market is a lot larger there.

      And yes indeed, paywalls on the web are hard to do, but the same holds true for paid apps.

      Besides all that, the internet is first and foremost a communication medium. If you add paywalls or put content only in apps, you are removing yourself from that communication. People can't share links to your stories, thus you are losing those chance-visitors, the ones you'd otherwise won't have.

      That is why we are saying that you're not getting it.

      Indeed, we don't know exactly how the future will go, but we can make an educated guess based on what happened in the past.

      Paywalls will only work if ALL newspapers (world-wide) were to do that. Good luck, that's rather like herding cats. As there will always be a player that sees more possibilities with ad-revenue, especially if the other players are taking themselves off the board.
      Same with apps.
      Why would I, as a consumer, pay for something I can get elsewhere for free(gratis)?
      Don't forget, even the all-hallowed Ipad has a browser built-in. Same with Android devices.

       

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      Free Capitalist (profile), Jul 2nd, 2010 @ 11:23am

      Re:

      Don't take this too harshly, but there really were a lot of sentences in your article written as unequivocal fact, such as your opening paragraph, but are a little far reaching to be applying to a new phenomenon. I've been called out on this very thing several times in this forum.

      Honestly the way the article reads reminds me of those old Gap commercials, "Everybody wear ..(X)", also not unlike calling a square-dance. "Moving" to apps is a fresh experiment, and honestly if it leads to a more closed environment I do not see it going far, much less going far from "free" and succeeding.

      Also why do so many journalists write about libertarianism as if it were a new phenomenon? Is not American history or world history or ancient Greek history required study for these degrees?

      What the "big guys" do and say, and what the media writes has never really equated to popular reality. This long known fact has only become apparent to the media players and the big guys since they saw people running away in droves to more open, varied and objective writing (and opinion in the case of many popular sites).

       

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    Webby, Jul 1st, 2010 @ 9:08pm

    All of this suggests that the era of browser dominance is coming to a close.


    Sure. Then how does that ostentatious dipshit explain the presence of Safari and other browsers being on the iPhone and iPad?

    The quicker these pompous asshole professional "journalists" are put out of business, the better off we'll all be.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 1st, 2010 @ 9:19pm

    "The era of the Web browser’s dominance is coming to a close. And the Internet’s founding ideology—that information wants to be free, and that attempts to constrain it are not only hopeless but immoral— suddenly seems naive and stale in the new age of apps, smart phones, and pricing plans"

    The thesis of the article (first paragraph) paints a picture that a new app driven web is the wave of the future. My big problem is that, instead of admitting it is just another experiment in "pay for content" on the web, the article tries to paint a picture that the incredible benefit the web has brought to the information age, easy free access to information, is somehow "naive and immoral".

    I think most people accept paying for print media because it is a scarce good and has distribution costs. What they gain is a physical good that they can potentially keep forever. With web content, there is not the same tangible aspect when you purchase media. If you purchase access to an article, you don't know if you will have access to it forever. People also understand that without distribution costs, web content should be less expensive than print content, and considering that most print is made up of a significant amount of advertising, when companies try to charge as much or more than their print counterparts people question.

    Considering most print media continues a significant amount of advertising, I don't think it's unreasonable to expect that smart content providers should be able to embrace the free ad driven model. I agree with other posters that the pay for content, even through an app, is a fad and there exists plenty of competition ready to offer the same for free.

     

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    hxa7241, Jul 2nd, 2010 @ 10:30am

    The fundamental forces seem irresistible

    To me, everything is determined by the simple, profound, economic structural change. Before, there was a hierarchical, broadcast system; now there is a network, peer-to-peer system.

    This means many more producers. The old producers face a whole new competition that: 1, outnumbers them by orders of magnitude; 2, has effectively zero costs. It doesn't matter that these new joe-public producers don't generally make such high quality, shiny stuff. It is overall more creative and more interesting and engaging. Even just simple comments. No real humans would want to give up the internet as it is known and loved -- only certain corporations.

    The economic force of that is unstoppable. Some groups might pretend it is not happening, or that they themselves let it go too far but can now take charge again and fix it; they can even try rigging a few more laws in their favour -- but nothing like that will stop such fundamental forces.

     

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    Richard (profile), Jul 2nd, 2010 @ 11:22am

    All of this suggests that the era of browser dominance is coming to a close.

    And groups playing guitars are on the way out...

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 2nd, 2010 @ 2:51pm

    I enjoy a wide choice of music, audio books and videos that I can easily download to my IPOD. The videos for the most part won't play on a 'smart phone' because I've ripped them from my own DVD collection, and the audio quality is horrible on my G1, as is the dismal battery life.

    The desktop PC with the old dead traditional internet browser allows me to find and control the content I want to download, watch and listen to at my convenience. I'm not interested in streaming audio or video, especially on a mobile device, because my listening and viewing choices are then dependent on the quality of the wireless connection as well as the content provider's decision on what to offer.

    Also, buffering is a complete and total joke. When I've attempted to access music streaming apps on the G1, and on the Windows Mobile device I owned previously, one song can get stuck, as badly as if it were an old scratched LP record album. Why would I pay for access to this kind of content when the delivery quality is iffy at best?

    There's also another nutty thing I haven't been able to resolve. Audio books, even those ripped to MP3 format, only play right on my IPOD, on my PC, or ripped to a CD. Any audio book, even with shuffling and random track options turned off, will still play insanely randomly on my G1, my old Windows Media PDA, or on any other MP3 player I've ever owned, except for my IPODs. The chapters are clearly designated, yet are scrambled and played without any regard for order. Until these kind of bugs are worked out, you will not find me using a mobile device to the exclusion of the traditional PC, laptop or my IPOD.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Jul 2nd, 2010 @ 2:55pm

      Re:

      I should add, all of this is paid-for content, not anything pirated. Most of the audiobooks were free downloads from an online service my local public library offers.

       

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      Marcel de Jong (profile), Jul 3rd, 2010 @ 12:52pm

      Re:

      actually I quite enjoyed listening to Radio Wimbledon using my phone, mostly because I had no other way... but still it was rather enjoyable to listen to it. A bit of a pain to get it set up though (as it was a flash player that would lose connection as soon as the screen blanked out, but luckily my phone stays on when you plug in the adapter).

       

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    CRB'78, Jul 5th, 2010 @ 3:04pm

    re: Another Journalist

    Honestly, that article you quoted from is the saddest piece of journalism I've ever read. In fact, by calling that article "journalism", I have probably just insulted every journalist on the planet. Sorry about that, journalists!

     

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