WIRED magazine started all kinds of ruckus earlier this year when it declared that The Web Is Dead. “Yeah, yeah, OK,” I thought, as I read the article on the WIRED website. GTFOH. But something weird happened – I started to agree with those crazy guys. Actually, agree isn’t quite right. Instead, I’m realizing that the web isn’t dead, but our proverbial kids will probably not mess with it everyday like we do. In other words, it might be a generation away from being a virtual wasteland.
My change of heart happened last Wednesday when the great J.K. Rowling unleashed Pottermore, the website that is all things Harry Potter. It will have interactive environments, cool scenes, and other nerdy goodies. The problem? Based on the announcement, it will all have to be accessed through the Pottermore website. No apps. No stand-alone games. The only thing outside of the website are text-based ebooks. Like I said on my CBS daily blog, I’m disappointed that this potentially awesome interactive experience will be stuck in a web browser requiring an Internet connection. It feels like Pottermore is built for a pre-tablet 2009. I want Hogwarts in my pocket! I then realized that we all are getting used to having interactive experiences in our hands – accessible at all times.
I’m not an expert on the web by any means, but I do know publishing, and this reminds me a hell of a lot of the magazine world. Back in the day, like, you know, the ‘80s, general interest magazines thrived on the newsstands: Life, The Saturday Evening Post, Readers’ Digest, etc. By the time the Reagan Era ended, magazines became more specialized and focused, and general interest pubs either were closed (Life, the Post) or in financial decay (Digest). Few broad-audience pubs survived. Why? We’re all about personalization now, whether it is creating an iPod playlist instead of letting a radio DJ control our tunes to our TiVo learning our favorite programs rather than blindly following the TV schedule.
And what is the web? A messy, duplicitous, and confusing newsstand. We depend on RRS feeds, favorite blogs, and, of course, friends to steer us to the right, most useful information. Apps are popular because they are usually online-independent, they are portable, and they are focused. If an app is done well, we have a clean, uninterrupted, and tailored experience. The iPhone and its ilk made apps more commonplace, but we would have found another way to streamline the wild wild web experience with or without the mobile revolution.
Lest you think I’m nuts, we now actually have the stats to back up our app cravings, too. According to the analytics firm Flurry, for the first time we are spending more minutes daily using mobile apps than surfing the web: 81 minutes in apps versus 74 minutes in a browser. Compare this to a year ago when we only spent 43 minutes in apps versus 64 minutes on the web.
This is why Facebook, Skype, and other browser-based tools will be announcing better-than-web tablet apps this summer. This is also why, for the next generation, the Internet will be like a paper magazine: Something you go to when the app version isn’t available. Word to my digital The New Yorker subscription.