Regarding: The Future of Apps and Web by Janna Anderson & Lee Rainie
I am sure folks have been over this a few times by now, since this report from the Pew Internet & American Life Project came out a month ago in March. However, I am writing about it now because I have been really struck by two quotes from the summary:
- I have to admit the open Web is certainly changing—just ask the 750M people on the anti-Web, also known as Facebook . . .
- The Web is about discovery and serendipity, it’s about finding something you weren’t looking for; to lose that would be to take a step back in our progress as intellectual humans, the equivalent of burning a digital book.
The first is from David Ellis, director of communication studies at York University. It reminds me that Facebook really is a walled-garden, where all the activity and content is contained with a secured and established perimeter. And that MSN tried that approach nearly two decades ago with its web portal, but it failed. There are good reasons why the MSN model and others failed (lack of bandwidth, for one) when Facebook has been so successful (narcissism, most likely). I had not thought of Facebook as the anti-web, and I wonder if in fact it is. An original intention of the web was
networked defense systems to manage information sharing – albeit academic sharing and surely this level of social sharing simply could not have been envisioned. However, isn’t it true that Facebook is fulfilling the spirit of the web’s intent – information sharing?
I am playing devil’s advocate because I think the answer is no; instead Facebook, for all of its sharing capabilities, is marginalizing users’ exposure to serendipitous discovery. In Facebook, I see a link from someone who I am already “friends” with, someone with whom I presumably already have shared experiences and similarities of thought. Reading what they are reading or hearing what their current life experiences are may not actually grow or expand my boundaries since we already have common folkways and mores. Sharing within one’s own silo is technically sharing, but it does not grasp the full capacity of the web’s ability to share. And serendipity is a good segue to the second quote, which is from Richard Titus, a venture capitalist.
A web services such as StumbleUpon do a better job than Facebook of exposing users to concepts that may fall outside of the user’s comfort zone, and therefore expand sharing and knowledge. There is no boundary or wall to the Stumble Upon garden of information in the same way that there is to the Facebook garden of information. Granted, Stumble Upon requires users to self-select their topics, but once that is completed the authorship of that content that is returned to the user could be well outside of the realm of the user’s personal silo. Thus, serendipitous discovery of information. This is a good thing, isn’t it?
Facebook and Google are responding to the drive to link ads with potential consumers by providing content that matches the user’s preferences. If I seem to like conservative viewpoints, Facebooks shows me more conservative-styled posts than liberal posts. Google floats conservative-leaning results higher in my search engine results page than non-conservative ones. At its best, I get ads and see content for things that interest me. I am less frustrated by the task of sifting through the huge data field that is the web. At its worst, I am left without fair, accidental exposure to concepts and viewpoints that differ from mine. I get trapped within a “filter bubble” of ideas and knowledge similar to my own. The web is stripped of its power to help expand my understanding of the world and people with whom I share it.
Remember that the article I am pulling these quotes is about the future of Apps versus the Web. So I do not mean to pull the quotes entirely out of context. My disclaimer is that reading them simply made me think of these other thoughts – I am not using Ellis or Titus to justify what I wrote here.
And what do I think about the Apps versus Web debate? It is tempting to take the middle ground. As quoted from the story:
- Apps will continue, as will app stores, but they’ll continue to be mass-market outlets for lightweight products on the one hand, and very narrow vertical outlets for very specific platform-dependent professional tools on the other, while the entire middle-ground will continue to belong to the Web.
Apps will stage a fair battle since they are the easy monetization of the web which companies have so long sought. But in the end, the web won’t so much as prevail as it will outlast apps. My prediction on this front is the web will win the war over apps, in twenty years it won’t be recognizable to today’s users. The “Internet of Things” will play a role in this, morphing the web into (hopefully) a more semantic and (definitely) more integrated tool in our everyday lives.