Is The Web Dying?

Honest question. I’m worried. Let’s look at the data.

If you follow the data on mobile vs desktop sales you’ll notice that not only will the installed base of mobile devices surpass desktop but it will almost 2x in two years.

PC vs Smartphone sales — source
Desktop vs. Mobile installed base — source

This qualifies as a paradigm shift in computing. Smartphones and tablets are essentially different mediums with different habits and a whole new human–computer interaction science. In-fact many consumers —specially in emerging markets— are jumping directly to the use of a smartphone or tablet computer without buying or learning how to use a desktop PC.

There are more than 5 billion mobile phones in the world, with almost 4 billion feature phones and more than 1 billion smartphones. As smartphone prices come down, many people who currently have feature phones will be able to afford smartphones over the next 5 years.

This comes from the document explaining the initiative by Facebook. Which is something I’m really excited about, it would simply help balance out the economic differences in the world a little bit by getting the rest of the world online. If a success, this will cause an explosion in the smartphone and tablet installed base units.

How is this related to the web? If computing is moving from our laps to our pockets then we could easily look at the usage habits of mobile devices and that should give us a pretty good guess about where the Web would stand in terms of usage in the upcoming few years.

But can’t mobile users browse the web? Yes, but according to the latest data, mobile web usage only amounts to 20% percent of the total usage of mobile devices.

Provided that some apps are in-part built using the open web tech stack, however, many have publicly declared it a failure and went native.

Furthermore, many companies are creating highly suboptimal mobile experiences with the excuse that they have a mobile app that they keep trying to force it on us. This is bound to drive mobile web traffic down even more. I Don’t Want Your F*cking App captures the frustration that mobile web users have to face everyday trying to do even the most trivial of tasks on the web.

The Browser Land Grab Game

But browsers are doing so much progress! Yes Google Chrome is an impressive piece technology that is capturing much of the PC browser market share with plans to move aggressively to the mobile space soon. The latest data by StatsCounter shows that not only that Chrome has the majority market share but it had also gained quite a lead over IE (the runner up).

Which puts Google in a position of power to change the name of the game. They started to slowly move away from the “push the web platform forward” gameplay to developing it’s own propriety platform as apparent in their latest press release.

Today marks the 5th birthday of Chrome, a project we started to push the web platform forward. From a humble beginning of static text, images and links, the web has grown into a rich platform teeming with interactive content and powerful applications. We’ve been astounded by how far the web has come and are very excited to see what developers around the world will be able to do with the new generation of Chrome Apps.

The basic message I’m reading here is that they seem to have gotten enough milage out of the web, and now that they have enough market share they’re going to make some serious changes. I’m not trying to be overly cynical here. I love Chrome. I wrote extensions for it, it helped me develop high quality software for the web using the debugger and dev tools, and it really did push the web forward.

Why Does it Matter?

The idea that someone would own the Web seems very wrong to me and I’m sure to many of the technologists and entrepreneurs in the world. I try to be reflective and aware of the fact that I’m deeply invested in the web and it’s going to be hard for me to speak objectively. However, the truth of the matter is that I can jump on the next application platform and be good enough to be dangerous within a month. I and many of the engineers like me will even find ways to automatically port many of our applications and knowledge to the new dominant platform.

Nonetheless, I don’t have to be overly objective about this, because the influence of the web can’t be fully quantified. The Web as a concept and as a technology has great virtues that can’t be found elsewhere in the world and we must try to salvage it or come up with something similar. It has been a big driver of great social and economical change that has been unprecedented in the history of the world. The idea that someone can make a webpage in an afternoon, put it up online and have thousands, or even millions of people be able to find it and interact with it is completely mind-blowing. The fact that machines can understand the entirety of the human knowledge, organise it, and present it in the most convenient of ways shows that there is a great value in preserving an open and connected web of information, information processes, and communication technology.

Let me know what you think: @amasad