The App Internet in 2012: Defining the death of the web

There has been an interesting debate going on about the future of the web. Forrester CEO George Colony gave a speech at LeWeb where he proclaimed three thunderstorms are coming. The first one of these is the death of the web and the emergence of a new kind of Internet called the “App Internet.”
This is not the first time someone has declared the death (or the dying of) the web. In fact, there have been countless debates on the subject and most people involved are, in my opinion, both right but also wrong.
At this point in the debate our main problem is that we are lacking proper definitions when we talk about the Web, the changes that are happening to it and what it really means for users and developers.
Moving Away From The Document Web
Mark Suster wrote a great response about the death of the Web in which he outlined that the App Internet is comparable to a move towards fat clients in the PC age. In recent years, the move to web applications made development a lot cheaper because of easier deployment, more simple security models and inexpensive cross platform compatibility, among other things.
But before jumping in on this it’s important that we dissect the definition of the “Web.” In almost all of these debates people tend to confuse the “Document Web” in which HTML pages are interconnected through hyperlinks with something else: “Web Technology” – a set of standards and APIs to access system functionality in order to provide user experiences (this includes HTML5, Webkit and protocols).
Considering these definitions, there is a clear move away from the Document Web. The amount of code, complexity and capabilities running in a typical web page has increased dramatically over the past decade. This started with the AJAX trick that allowed web developers to load data without reloading a page. Now it has come to a point where we have all user interface code loaded into the browser.
Most communication now happens in the background through near real-time API calls in a format called JSON. Effectively, this means that most web sites have become “apps” and it is no surprise that browser vendors are helping to solve app distribution mechanisms – i.e., creating new app marketplaces.
The move away from the Document Web is a result of reduced costs and important advances in Web Technology.
HTML5 & Developer Costs
The incredible improvements in Web Technology can be summarized with the popular term HTML5. But don’t be fooled — HTML5 has very little to do with HTML, web pages, links and the Document Web.
HTML5 is an umbrella term for the tremendous advance in JavaScript capabilities in modern browser engines. Google and Apple spearheaded many of these developments, even though they receive far less credit than the Holy W3C Consortium.
As Mark Suster correctly points out, it is very costly for companies, especially small ones, to develop apps for all these different platforms. They are forced to write Java for Android, Cocoa for iPhone, JavaScript for the Browser, ActionScript for Desktop, and so forth. It is no surprise that there are flourishing businesses, like Appcelerator for example, that bring HTML5 based web technology to these platforms.
Developers are intensely motivated by software development costs and they want one codebase to rule them all.
Who Wins With The Death Of The Document Web?
HTML5 and JavaScript are the immediate winners of an App Internet.
The combination of HTML, JavaScript and CSS is proven, widely adopted and already available on all of these platforms. When it comes to building apps, HTML5 and JavaScript is here to stay. The Document Web is dying, albeit slowly.
Today’s Web server is increasingly becoming a data hub that provides connectivity and data synchronization between different client apps. This data hub is becoming much more like a Machine Interface as opposed to a User Interface. It might still render some dumb static HTML pages for the Google Bot, but as any site owner can see in their statistics, traffic from traditional search engines is increasingly being eaten by Twitter and Facebook — or rather, the real-time social Web.
The Web is indeed moving beyond documents and interconnected pages. So yes, we should consider the Document Web as good as dead (along with it the importance of HTTP). But the sky is not falling. In fact, Web Technology is thriving.
Websites are becoming fantastic data hubs because they are built using Web technologies like Node.js (JavaScript on the server). And emerging Web technologies – such as Socket.IO and Telehash – are making it possible for apps to be interconnected in real-time by using new transport layers.
The combination of language standardization and better use of Web technologies means that apps will be more prolific, provide more value and will be much easier to build.
So by this definition, I’d argue the Web has really only just begun.
Dominiek ter Heide is the CTO and co-founder of Bottlenose, the smartest social media dashboard for professionals and influencers. Prior to Bottlenose, he served as CTO for iKnow, a Japanese e-learning web platform. When not incubating social and semantic web products, Dominiek enjoys surfing at the beach and writing algorithms.
Image courtesy of Sam Howzit.