Why are Web Companies Biting the Hand that Feeds Them?

What is the deal with web companies, companies providing services that have only been made possible by the web, that have only come into existence because of the web, that should have a vested interest in the continued growth and vibrancy of the web, biting that very hand that has fed them?

The latest came from Medium, so I thought writing a response post on Medium would be suitable. In a story announcing new Medium features, Ev Williams lauded their new apps, proclaiming that their native apps are “one of the best interactive reading experiences you can find” and that “in fact, people spend more time reading on our apps than on the web.” As a web professional, who spends his days and nights concerned with the evolution of the web, this irked me when I read it. On a personal level, it irks me because I am one of those people who get annoyed by incessent pop-ups urging me to “download our app.” I don’t want an app clogging up my device for medium. I use multiple devices throughout the day including my laptop, my phone and my tablet. When I want a content experience, especially with something like Medium which often features links to external content, I want that experience to be in context. I want to be able to know that when I follow a link to or from a medium article, it is in the context set up and retained in my browser and by my browsing. OR if I choose, I want to know that I can view that medium article in private browsing mode and not leave a trace. If I follow a twitter link in Medium I want to be authenticated to Twitter. Bespoke integrations such as “open tweets in the Twitter App” don’t cut on the web. Medium, like most other services on the web, does not live in a vacuum. It lives in the web ecosystem — and that ecosystem is based on the power of the URL.

But forgetting about my proclivities, it irks me because it unnecesarilly sets up a conflict between native apps and the web. It irks me because it’s a misconstruction. It irks me because it ignores the fact that the web is an evolving application platform and that the line between native apps and web apps is bluring. What detail lies behind this pronouncement? If Medium’s data shows that users are more engaged and read more Medium articles on native apps then my question is why? The post delving into some of the figures is a start but doesn’t go to the next step: analysis of what native app features are most instrumental in users’ increased interaction. Is it home screen presence? Push alerts? Full screen mode? Off-line operation? All of the above are features which already exist in the web platform or are coming soon.

What bothers me is that Medium has become what it is because of the web — because of providing a great web-based user experience (including one of the best content creation experiences on the web). But somehow Evan has forgotten this important part of the heritage of his company so now he’s happy to throw the web under a bus. How about this: instead of adding his voice to those of the web deniers, support the platform that gave this service life and continues to power innovation across the globe. Ev Williams: support the web by doing some analysis on why your users are feeling more enaged on native apps and feed that analysis into the process of web evoluion. Do so by contributing use cases and data into the W3C process either via the Web Platform Incubator Community Group or similar. Do so by bolstering your web development efforts, especially when it comes to emerging features on mobile browsers such as service worker and push alerts. Push the web forward instead of talking it down. By doing so, you’ll be contributing the ecosystem that gave rise to your excellent service and helping to make sure that ecosystem continues to be a vibrant engine for innovation.

Director of Web Advocacy & Open Source at Samsung Research UK; Co-chair of @W3CTAG; Immigrant, Londoner & World Citizen

Director of Web Advocacy & Open Source at Samsung Research UK; Co-chair of @W3CTAG; Immigrant, Londoner & World Citizen