The iPhone Killed the Open Web, Again

The latest Big Idea from Wired editor man Chris "Atoms Are the New Bits and Tails Are Long" Anderson: "The web is dead." Why? Apps, Facebook, iPhones.

Chris Anderson's new Big Idea—that the open web is giving way to a mere transport system for closed or semiclosed platforms like Facebook or iPhone apps from the App Store—is not very new. In its current iPhone-y, app-y incarnation, it's at least a couple of years old. Wired even participates in the very phenomenon it bemoans, with its very fancy iPad app. (Because it has to: "The assumption had been that once the market matured, big companies would be able to reverse the hollowing-out trend of analog dollars turning into digital pennies. Sadly that hasn't been the case for most on the Web, and by the looks of it there's no light at the end of that tunnel.") And the general idea itself goes back even further—Wired proclaimed the browser was dead in 1997, as he points out.

It's true that the open, free-for-all web is besieged, but in a lot of ways Anderson doesn't mention, like the potential neutering of net neutrality principles or the ongoing bandwidth crimp that could hamper innovative-but-data-intensive services—and, in turn, push users toward the kind of boxed services (cable VOD or ISP preferred content) that has Anderson so nerve-wracked. Like Comcast giving preferred access to NBC's content by not counting it toward your monthly data allowance (since Comcast owns half of NBC now), or Verizon speeding up YouTube over Vimeo. You can look at it as a hardware problem vs. a software problem—and if the hardware is screwed, so is the software.

So, there are reasons to be nervous about the future of the web—but I'm not sure the excellent NPR app is one of them. Right now, apps do things the open web can't, particularly on mobile devices. Once they're on par—or rather, if they never are—then we can decide just how afraid of apps we need to be. (My favorite iPhone app is still Safari. Hint to media companies: Build better websites!) Oh, while we're talking about apps, Chris, since I subscribe to the dead-tree edition of Wired, can we work out a way for me to see the very nice videos from the iPad app without paying full price, twice?

The iPhone Killed the Open Web, Again

Update: Mr. Beschizza of BoingBoing points out that this is what the above graph would look like if it depicted total web traffic and its growth over the last decade, not simply proportions of total traffic—which implies that traffic has been the same. It hasn't. It's kaboomed. [Wired]