News on Every Runtime

Fred Wilson, partner at Union Square Ventures, wrote a great piece last week responding to a16z’s Benedict Evans, specifically a point Evans made about runtimes. Runtimes are pieces software that run other software. A web browser is a runtime, because the browser is written in code, and websites — software that runs in the browser — is also written in code. Evans asked what the next dominant runtime would be after mobile apps:

For 15 years the internet was a monolith: web browser + mouse + keyboard. There were other options, but for most normal consumers the web and the internet were practically the same thing. The smartphone broke that apart, but we haven’t settled on a new model…. [Now] we’re looking for a new runtime — a new way, after the web and native apps, to build services. That might be Siri or Now or messaging or maps or notifications or something else again.

Wilson countered that the age of a single, dominant runtime is over. The next era of app development, he thinks, will occur across a range of runtimes, from messaging to maps. In this fragmented world, an app’s runtime will be determined by the nature of the service:

If I’m building a lunchtime meal delivery service for tech startups, that’s a Slack bot.
If I’m building a ridesharing service, that’s going to run in Google Maps and Apple Maps.
If I’m building a ‘how do I look’ fashion advisor service, that’s going to run in Siri or Google Now.
If I’m building an ‘NBA dashboard app,’ that is mostly going to run on the mobile notifications rails.

At Mic we’re thinking a lot about platforms, especially in the wake of services like Facebook Instant Articles and Apple News. If this fragmentation of runtimes happens, it will be fascinating but complicated for news organizations, because news will have a place on basically every one of them.

“News” is recently generated information of general-enough interest. People make better decisions when we have access to all information relevant to a decision. So one objective of news distributors could be making news available to a user at the moment of relevant decision-making. In this case, “decision-making” just means “use of an app.”

In the runtimes Wilson listed above, you can imagine:

  • A Slackbot for biz dev channels that surfaces recent coverage of a brand when mentioned
  • An integration with maps that surfaces hyperlocal news from a city block when you’re zoomed into it
  • If I’m debating with a friend the name of the Mexican town where “affluenza” teen was captured (Puerto Vallarta)
  • Too many notification examples to list

If apps crop up across a field of runtimes in the way Wilson described, there’s a broad opportunity for news distributors, but the way to capitalize on it isn’t yet clear. Maybe the answer is for news companies to index their editorial output into an API that allows a runtime’s personalization engine to find what it needs. Or maybe news companies help with personalization of news delivery, since so far platforms haven’t done a great job at that. Maybe each runtime needs an editor-in-chief.

If “the new runtime” is really a collection of use-specific runtimes, the exciting part for news companies will be experimenting with all the different platforms.

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