Reports Of The Web's Death Are Greatly Exaggerated Through Lies, Damn Lies & Statistics

from the mixing-mark-twain-quotes dept

Forgive the paraphrasing and mashing up of two separate Mark Twain quotes in the title. Lots of folks seem to be talking about the latest linkbait Wired story claiming that the web is dead, based on this graphic (built off of Cisco data):

Of course, anyone even remotely familiar with basic statistics will note that the % of traffic is kind of meaningless in determining whether or not something is “dying.” For that, you want the absolute numbers. Thankfully, Rob Beschizza over at Boing Boing took the same data and charted out the absolute results, which paints a somewhat different story:
Yeah, don’t go planning any funerals just yet. Also, I’m curious how that “video” portion is being calculated. I would guess that a fair amount of “video” traffic is happening on YouTube, which is (last I checked) really on the web.

This is not to say, of course, that web technology will dominate forever. Frankly, I still remember when the WWW first came along, and I switched from using Gopher to the web and figured that it was merely a stepping stone (as Gopher had been), and that something better would come along in about five years. I was clearly wrong on that. But it doesn’t mean something else won’t come along eventually.

But I wouldn’t rule the web out just yet. As we’ve seen with things like OpenAppMkt, HTML 5 and related technologies (Javascript, CSS, etc.) are getting pretty powerful, and could bring a lot more attention to the web. In fact, many of the “apps” that the Wired articles (yes, it’s two articles, side-by-side, making it quite difficult to read) applaud as driving us past the web, are really just web apps in disguise. The death of the web has been truly exaggerated in this case.

In fact, much of both articles seems to be wishful thinking to support a view that the two authors — Chris Anderson and Michael Wolff — hope the world will come to eventually, rather than what seems to actually be happening. In both cases, it feels like they take the misleading graph at the top as the starting point, and then justify it, even though it’s not painting an accurate picture. There is this new fascination with app madness as the latest new thing — and companies love it because they think it gives them back some of the control they’ve lost to the open web. But, openness tends to find its way through. Closed systems are great for leading a charge to a new level, but they almost always stall out as more open solutions leapfrog them in the end. Apps are still digital, after all, and it’s tough to keep anything digital closed for too long.

So I wouldn’t fear the death of “the web,” or of “openness” any time soon.

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Comments on “Reports Of The Web's Death Are Greatly Exaggerated Through Lies, Damn Lies & Statistics”

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TtfnJohn (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Bring out ya dead!

They’re still going to pretend they’re on a cute seal hunt and try to whack it to death with a big club with a spike through it.

Like Mike I think they’ve misread the tea leaves or entrails or whatever they’re consulting. Apps are certainly the “trend du jour” something tech commentators need and invent as need be so they have something new to talk about.

I just love the now and then chart!( Last time I checked the browser is an app. The little things he’s calling apps have a long standing analog in Firefox extentions, last time I looked. (A lot more useful that most of the iPhone/iPad apps I’ve had the misfortune of looking at and using.)

Then Javascript and Now as Objective-C strikes me as a tad too Apple centric. To be honest I’ve yet to see an iPad in the real world outside of retailers. Yeah, I know how many have sold but I’m beginning to wonder if a lot of them haven’t become super expensive door stops.

Then as HTML and Now as XML shows a disconnect with reality as the Web itself shows if you land on most CMS sites. As Mike points out HTML 5 is on the way and then we’ll see.

As for the Internet becoming a group of walled gardens, we’ll see. This isn’t the first time the death of the Web has been announced in favour of walled gardens all over the Interet but somehow it’s survived. Maybe because it’s flexible enough to contain just about anything?

And the walled gardens that have gained so much favour in the past have all but disappeared.

My guess is that all this seems to be about “excitement” over apps/gadgets is being taken far too seriously by some.

As for Jobs alignment with “traditional” media models that’s not really much of a surprise as he builds his iTunes, iPad, iPhone house of cards. It’s hell of an idea but all it takes is someone with the moxie to invade that space to knock it all down. Google anyone? Anyway, to a large degree the “i” world still relies on the web for an awful lot, as do the other services mentioned.

It may be that we’re seeing a convergence rather than a revolution.

Funny thing is that it all reminds me of the architecture of UNIX a kernel (HTML5) supported by applications (apps) that do one thing an done thing only extemely well and built up from there. (Not the best of news for Jobs, I suspect.) Oh yeah, and the Internet transporting the whole kit and kaboodle along with ancient, forgotten things like usenet, IRC, Gopher and more. (All still very much alive.)

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Heh, Mike, many people have called Chris Anderson’s predictions wrong in the past and their careers did not live to tell about it, and while I emotionally believe you, I have trouble discounting someone who has been so consistently accurate for so many years on the future of technology.

Heh. Chris and I agree on quite a lot (see his last book for example…). But, I just don’t see the support on this one.

TtfnJohn (profile) says:

Re: Re:

He may not be Anderson but Wolf took a previous run at “Browser it Dead” way back in 97 in the height of push mania.

The Web is still here. Netscape is no more, Active Desktop is a horrible nightmare best forgotten and push, while it exists, is kinda by invitation only and on life support otherwise.

Andrew (profile) says:

Trying again...

Wow, that’s annoying. My whole post got obliterated somehow. I was saying…

What surprised me about that graph was that apparently Usenet was less than 1% in 1990, when it should have been, I think, much more. Sure, it didn’t hit its stride until broadband met the binary groups, and AOL’s eternal September, but still. I’d also like to know what makes up “Other” back in 1990.

Also, Dark Helmet, “putting the Internet on the cart”? The web is not the Internet, so I don’t think they’re doing anything of the sort.

Floyd (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Trying again...

That’s why I used that example. It’s funny (to me) that people accept all kinds of goods being delivered on different schedules, but when it comes to their internet packets, they want the government to come in and fine companies $2 million for doing the same thing.
To me, that’s why what Google did with Verizon was evil. Not the fact that they agree that wireless should be exempt from net neutrality, but that the government should control and fine private networks for operating as they see fit.
Time and time again, the market has defeated closed networks. See AOL for the best example. I don’t believe that networks should be tiered, but that’s up to the network operators to decide. If I choose to subscribe to an ISP that had tiered access, then that is my choice, and the government fining them $2 million isn’t going to help me. What exactly would the government do with that money anyways? Besides the fact that it would come out of the customers pockets (it’s not like the CEO would pay it), the money would probably be giving back to the ISP to pay for broadband or phone access for hillbilly’s that live in the Ozarks and can’t afford satellite (in other words, more government intervention to distort the market). Or maybe they’d just funnel it directly into the bank accounts of Goldman Sachs.

castilho (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Trying again...

I already pay for my the delivery time, it’s my bandwidth. The company on the other end is also paying for their delivery time (bandwidth).

So only if you admit that the bandwidth everyone is paying for doesn’t mean anything and that we are reaching the maximum of what the network supports can prioritizing make any sense.

It’s basically saying:”I’m already lying to you over your bandwidth, but you can pay more to have it back.”

I agree with you that this should be dealt by the market. The problem is that to have a market you need competition. From what I read that is were the problem starts.

Floyd (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Trying again...

I couldn’t agree with you more! Everyone already pays for the delivery time. When you sign up for internet service, you are offered a variety of speeds, and you choose based on your preferences and needs. This is what the market provides: choice.
If an ISP started throttling certain websites in order to shake them down for money, there would be massive consumer outrage, articles everywhere about how horrible that ISP is, and they would be forced to change.
I could maybe see a scenario, however, where somebody like Google would pay an ISP in order to be able to co-locate a data center with a major backbone in order to obtain faster load times, and I don’t think that I would have a problem with it, if it didn’t interfere with regular internet traffic. But, I don’t think that it would really yield that great of results, Google (and pretty much all websites) load fast as long as you have a decent connection, nowadays.
So, to reiterate, I am for open networks, etc, but I am against the government regulating those networks. Unfortunately, the government already harms Internet accessibility with regulations that grant monopolies to ISPs (cable & telcos) which is the greatest market distortion to the Internet today.
For example, “Baltimore, Chicago, Cleveland,
Columbus, Detroit, Kansas City, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis, among the larger cities, had at least two telephone services in 1905.”

DearMrMiller (profile) says:


Or another example with HTML5 and/or Javascript taking over from Flash. Which is an application based technology that showed how a closed system could present information in new and dynamic ways now with these technologies becoming part of the open-framework of the web. On the iPhone you’ve got Google’s own CSS/Javascript/html5 driven web pages for Youtube, Calendar, Mail, etc which outstrip the functionality of the closed app which Apple provides… The facade is already cracking. Sure companies like apps. But ultimately, wouldn’t companies want to create something that didn’t only work on a set number of devices, but on everything?

Long live the web.

farooge (profile) says:

Wired is a confusing pub

At first I thought it was cool, I felt like I was missing something – so I subscribed (years ago).

Then it began to ‘feel’ different (I’m not sure how else to express the vibe) and I looked elsewhere (for many years)

More recently the “I’m missing something” vibe returned, so I added them to my RSS reader and I was seriously considering a print sub (not that I’d always read it .. just to support them) then the IPad app mania (seriously??) kinda cooled me a little – now this (I had the exact same impressions of their motives)

Forget it, they’re as clueless as (insert old media company name here). I wonder if the “missing something” vibe was some sort of marketing ploy that they have down pat? (feeling gamed is icky)

Kinda like my XM sub. – they feel SOOO “old school” that it pains me to give them my money but I LOVE hockey, and they have a channel named “Home Ice” that is pretty awesome … but do you really want me to (secretly, kinda) loathe you?

Floyd (profile) says:

Re: Wired is a confusing pub

I couldn’t agree more. Every once in a while, I’ll see something interesting linked at, and I’ll think, hey, they have some cool stuff. Then I’ll subscribe via Reader and most of the articles will be utter crap, junk about internet dildos and whatnot. The print version isn’t any better, either.

Floyd (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Wired is a confusing pub

That’s a legitimate question. Go read some articles on to find out! I jest.
I was referring to a few articles I’ve seen on there about teledildonics, as they refer to it, which is (as I understand it) having a dildo hooked up to the internet so that it can be controlled remotely (via the Internet). They seem to think it’s the next greatest thing, I suppose it would be great for those who can’t get laid any other way…

Andrew (profile) says:

Re: Stats can be made to say anything

Probably the same. Realize that traffic in 1990 was many, many orders of magnitude smaller than traffic in 2010, so DNS requests, essentially the overhead of internet traffic, would have made up a larger proportion.

And I would agree, Telnet, FTP, and Usenet have vastly lower usages nowadays, at least proportionally. FTP in particular is a lost art. I miss logging in to and and 🙁

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Stats can be made to say anything

FTP as an INTRANET protocol is alive and well, for the most part, FTP as an INTERNET protocol is foolish. If you don’t take extra-ordinary steps to secure any servers you allow access the internet at large your doing yourself actual harm. FTP is one of the least secure protocols in the world. Seen issues with Chinese and less that stellar security on FTP servers first hand. Best to wall it off and use a more up-to-date protocol with your choice of security envelope.

Floyd (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Stats can be made to say anything

I could see that, mostly I was referring to anonymous FTP servers anyway, which weren’t burdened with security. There were quite a few times when I needed a file or program and was stuck in DOS or a Linux terminal and FTP got me what I needed when nothing else could… But I guess the need for that is pretty much nil nowadays anyway… I think I’m gonna make my kids use Linux without X for the first few years of their computing lives. Okay, maybe not, but it’s a thought.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Stats can be made to say anything

“I think I’m gonna make my kids use Linux without X for the first few years of their computing lives.”

As long as you run behind a firewall and block X server ports both ways, that’s unnecessary. Run a netbeui file system with print server in your intranet, behind a firewall or not- all bets are off. You’re on your own, pal.

crade (profile) says:

Even if http traffic were much smaller, it still wouldn’t mean much.. Http isn’t really intended for large transactions. A hundred people surfing the web for a full day would probably make less traffic than one guy downloading one movie on p2p in an hour, but that doesn’t mean p2p is getting used more, it is simply used for things that are much more bandwidth intensive.

TtfnJohn (profile) says:

The Real Wired Story Is In The Debate

Mike, you may want to look at it.

The debate is between Chris Anderson, Iim O’Reilly and John Battelle.

A quick synopsis would be, from Chris Anderson’s keyboard: “The competition for attention is growing, thanks to the Web’s low barriers to entry, and the advantages of high-production content (from TV to, yes, magazines) are lost in the browser-centric marketplace, where all content looks more or less alike, context is lost, session times are measured in seconds, and brands are blurred in a river of atomized text and pictures.”

Starting to sound familiar? Let’s continue: “Apps, for us, are just a way to put our best foot forward, to package text, images, video, interactivity in a designed package that can engage people for an hour, not a minute. It’s early days yet, but we’re already seeing an order of magnitude difference in iPad app session times compared to the same content on the Web.”

In short Wired failed to adapt to the open Internet and now, to save itself, proposes a closed one. While that’s buried deep in the debate and takes a while to get there, with Anderson dancing around it all the way, we do get there.

It’s a self serving story designed to going the chorus that’s already coming from the “high end, professional” class of content providers to move to the iPad/iPod/iPhone Apple world where content is controlled and walled in.

Just the ticket for Verizon/Google/Comcast/AT&T

I’ll bet we’re gonna get a torrent of this kind of story over the next short period of time. And, who knows, maybe Mike will shift his position on net neutrality a wee bit after reading this and the avalanche to come.

JC says:

If this is percentage of traffic based on bandwidth (which it appears to be) then the whole discussion is pointless. Of course video traffic is going to be a much larger portion of the overall traffic – videos have more data than web pages.

This whole graph could be replaced with the words “obvious traffic patterns, nothing to see here”.

Terry Westley says:

The web is really nothing more than a set of standards that have facilitated the wonder we see before us. Almost 100% of the apps discussed access their data through web standards. Sure, perhaps the role of the browser is changing, but it’s hard to say the web is dead anymore than you can say TCP/IP is dead because we use a lot of other protocols now too.

Jose_X (profile) says:

p2p is future for good reason -- it's more inclusive and empowering for many.

The “web protocol” (http) is fairly simple. Most of what we experience comes from standards layered on top of this (eg, the periodically upgraded HTML, javascript, and numerous others).

P2P is also a general category whose shared characteristic appears to be simply that most data is stored replicated across the network rather than highly centralized.

I agree with the last model. Sun Micro (as have many others), for example, spoke for a long time of how p2p will be the future.

I makes great sense. p2p is more efficient in transmission and in content creation. The new web will be largely on p2p, but it will continue to have many similarities with the regular web, except that I think we will leverage speedier client side applications and integration more extensively through what p2p and open source makes possible by everyone. P2P can be made more secure and private along the lines of keeping control with the creator of information (at his/her machine rather than on someone else’s server).

Each and all will continue to exist, but p2p will ascend much further than where we find it today. In fact, I am slowly working on such integration for a Linux distro (so call be biased). The important point is that content creators will have more control relative to the current web (including by picking proxies and terms of security/privacy) and additionally transfers will occur more efficiently for popular content in particular. [Ads will take on new forms, etc.]

Jose_X (profile) says:

Re: p2p is future for good reason -- it's more inclusive and empowering for many.

To clarify a point or two.

The existing html and other creations for the web can be leveraged by a web-ized p2p world. Most small content will still be download instantaneously just as is the case with the web (so don’t compare to the downloading of a gig-sized file as is the use case for p2p today). Essentially, people will not notice a major difference as the software is created to mix p2p and web together (and with other things).

Open source puts the power in the community of technically savvy users. This is where the fastest innovation will occur and all software essentially will be free for everyone to use. More private conversations will take place (frequently, encrypted automatically) and people’s desktop/surfing/etc experience will be much more easily shareable with others under a wide range of efficient contexts (rather than simply something like (eg) vpn or (eg) vnc — each itself currently being a limited form of restricted p2p).

We will obviously need a p2p dns system. This lookup system will be out of the hands of any central authority and for free since hosting a name string (or small profile) is rather cheap and many will volunteer to do so for others (including for business reasons.. I mean look at how much more data Google voluntarily hosts today!).

Jose_X (profile) says:

p2p is future for good reason -- it's more inclusive and empowering for many.

The key to expanding the p2p use case is to duplicate the services people now find in places like facebook and other central sources. For some things there are clear advantages to having data access be near. However, since most users want to be the center of their world (rather than be a tiny part under the domain of some large third party), we want to make sure the data formats and applications start and end with the end user. Then storing in one computer (a powerful server) or 20,000 is a detail and oftentimes 20,000 is better than simply 1. Control moves from necessarily being with those with a ton of money into a situation where ultimate decisions are controlled by the end user with the support of the partaking wider community of users and service enhancing third parties (but with less leverage for services now handled by the community as a whole). Open source ($0 software under no third party’s control) is important here for this system to reach (and surpass) competitive levels with offerings of mega server farms under single control of wealthy third parties. This P2P evolution will mostly be pushed by the end user/ open source crowd for obvious reasons (we are more empowered by it than with the centralized model).

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