The Web’s Long Farewell

The end of the web as we know it is nigh.

It may seem like heresy to say it now, but in just a few years you’ll wonder how you ever put up with this disaster of an information mess.

And you’ll shake your head and chuckle at “those old web browser things.”

I would estimate that the day of reckoning will arrive when Microsoft releases its next version of Windows, codenamed “Vista”, some time in the next couple of years (keep your fingers crossed — or not).

In the murky depths of that new operating system will be an entirely new web browser, Internet Explorer 7, that will make every attempt to reinvent the world wide web in Microsoft’s image.

Instead, it will break every web site known to humankind and users everywhere will become frustrated — again — with Microsoft’s lack of adoption of web site standards.

Web site managers will refuse to incur the cost of redeveloping their web sites for yet another Microsoft bomb. Instead, they’ll reinvent the internet experience.

We can see this happening already, in fact.

Take Apple’s iTunes music store. A lot of its success is due to the fact that it doesn’t depend on a web browser.

The interface you use to purchase and download music from the internet is the same you use to manage your tracks and load up your iPod. It’s all iTunes.

As most other online music retailers prove, if you add an endless variety of third party web browsers into the mix between a person’s music and their listening device, chaos ensues.

Actually, Apple’s iTunes music store does use a web browser. It’s custom-built and integrated into the iTunes software application. In fact, iTunes is now the second most popular web browser on the internet, with fully 14% of the online population using it regularly.

This approach to online e-commerce gives Apple total control over the user experience, from the point of purchase straight through to the listening device. It’s a brilliant strategy and one that more online services are certain to adopt.

Another indication that people are tired of the web is the popularity of RSS, or “Really Simple Syndication”. In a sense, RSS is a way for people to customize their experience with information from the web by subscribing to bits and piece of it. The information, which is usually news, is delivered into a single environment — the RSS reader — which provides a cursory overview.

The problem with RSS is that it’s just another messy technical layer on top of an already messy web. It’s like spreading peanut butter on top of jam. Plus you have to be quite technically adept to use it.

Most normal people I’ve spoken to find it incredibly complicated to comprehend and use.

But the very existence of RSS makes a point: people want the information on the web — they just don’t want the web.

In the future, the web browser will survive and so will the web. But “www” will be remembered as the “wild west” instead of “worldwide” web. And the web browser will be recognized for what it truly is: a tool designed by geeks, for geeks.

(Anyone who has tried to learn the finer points of a web browser knows this to be true. Beyond clicking and browsing, most folks just can’t be bothered to learn how to change the skin of their Firefox browser, or manage parental controls in Internet Explorer. Who has the time and patience?)

More and more we’ll find customized desktop applications like iTunes cropping up that will elevate users’ experiences with a particular service while limiting options (and therefore frustrations).

I can think of a million opportunities for such an approach to web content.

For instance, I’d love to download an IKEA household designer desktop web application that does one thing: interior design (with IKEA products, of course). I could use this application to choose the new cabinets, fittings, and flooring for my kitchen renovations. Then, with the click of a mouse, everything I need would be ordered through IKEA and shipped directly to me.

It wouldn’t matter what web browser I had, or whether I’m a Mac or Windows user. It would just work the way the designers intended it, no matter where you run it.

The major brands currently on the web, like Amazon, Google, and MSN, will definitely move in this direction in an effort to entrench users in their range of products and services.

Rumours already swirl of a Google web browser. I don’t believe it’ll be so much a web browser as a Google Tool providing access solely to Google information, services and products, with a more structured approach to information drawn from the wild west web, something akin to RSS.

Following the release of Microsoft Vista, traditional web sites will become the poor cousins of the customized web tools on the new internet as web browser use plummets. The web we know will return to its roots: a chaotic, disorganized realm ruled by geeks.

A new level of articulate, structured, user-friendly and service-oriented internet environments will elevate themselves above the madding crowds.

First published in the Yukon News on Friday, January 27, 2006

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