Making the Mobile Web The Real Internet

The always thoughtful John Battelle suggests here that the mobile Internet is getting very close to being The Internet, or the mobile version of it, thanks to what I’ll call the rise of connective tissue.

By connective tissue, I mean programs, services and functions at the operating system and lower levels that link together the million mini-silos and walled gardens out there that we all know as apps. Other tools work around the limitations of web browsers, particularly for data entry, content sharing and even creative tasks such as photo and video editing.

These connective bits are making the mobile Internet far easier to use, but are also binding it more closely together, as many basic functions are constructed on commonly available backbones rather than bespoke standalone solutions.

As Battelle points out, sometimes the connective tissue involves programs that make it easy to sign up for and populate a new service by using your login from big platforms such as Twitter or Facebook. News, dating and many other sites are eliminating sign-up and ID-verification headaches, opting for less independence to improve speed to usage.

Other apps essentially provide mini-versions of their operations within larger programs. Think, for instance, how iOS allows third-party apps to add editing capabilities from within Apple’s own Photos app.

iOS Photos app with editing apps available

And Battelle cites an area where I think we’ll see a lot of growth in coming months, bots that operate within chat programs and other platforms.

He mentions Prompt, which integrates dozens of standalone services into SMS, your mobile Web browser or Slack. Want to check the weather, order movie tickets, create an Evernote post or arrange an Uber ride? Prompt is one of growing number of such bot services that can do that in a simple, text-driven interface that overlays one of mobile’s foundational functions, texting.

Prompt splash screen from website

Quartz, the news site, has adopted an SMS-style interface for daily updates that mimics a chat, complete with emojis and thought balloons. It’s still inside the Quartz app, but it’s easy to see that service on Slack alongside the New York Times election-night bot of recent primaries. Expect most of the major chat applications to further build out their bot functions directly or in concert with apps such as Prompt.

And of course, publishers are pondering the value of maintaining their own site or going all-in with Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram or other big aggregators that already have large audiences.

The question remains, of course, whether our technologies will take the next step, more fully and painlessly integrating mobile video (and supporting advertising) across this increasingly bolted-together “network of networks,” or whether video will be largely controlled by YouTube and Facebook, with a modest slice for Twitter. That will be the next step from Walled Gardens to a truly integrated Mobile Internet of the future.