Sorry, Wired, the Web is Not Dead

Last Updated Aug 19, 2010 10:26 AM EDT

The cover story on the latest issue of Wired magazine declares - The Web is Dead, Long Live The Internet. It's a vision of the near future where the familiar browser disappears, replaced by dedicated apps that rely on the Internet, but are walled off from the larger, interconnected web. It's an interesting vision, but a self serving one, premised on poor data and willful blindness.

Let's start with the chart the opens the article. It purports to show the way in which the experience of using the internet has changed over time. According to this graphic, a decade ago about half of user activity in the United States was browsing the web. Over the last ten years that percentage has been cut nearly in half, to just 23%, overshadowed by increases in video and peer to peer sharing.


But this chart measures activity by looking at traffic, the amount of data consumed by each activity. That's a terrible metric for gauging how the typical user spends their time. A half an hour spent on Hulu might consume more data than 5 hours spent browsing the web. As Rob Beschizza points out at Boing Boing, you can use the exact same data set to show how tremendous the growth in web browsing has been over the last decade.

The death of the web would suit Chris Anderson, Wired's editor in chief and the author of this story, just fine. It would mean a world in which users preferred to pay for Wired as an app, as opposed to consuming it for free. Anderson, like many journalists, no longer believes in the economics of the web. He describes his "average" day, a capitalist utopia of curated information.

You wake up and check your email on your bedside iPad -- that's one app. During breakfast you browse Facebook, Twitter, and The New York Times -- three more apps. On the way to the office, you listen to a podcast on your smartphone. Another app. At work, you scroll through RSS feeds in a reader and have Skype and IM conversations. More apps. At the end of the day, you come home, make dinner while listening to Pandora, play some games on Xbox Live, and watch a movie on Netflix's streaming service. You've spent the day on the Internet -- but not on the Web.
Does Mr. Anderson ever listen to a song and have a question about the artist the Pandora app can't answer? Perhaps he'd like to check out Roger Ebert's review of a film before he streams it on Netflix, or follow a link someone sent him in an email. Anderson's own example, by illustrating the diversity of human experience, lays waste to the idea that we will live in a world where every desire or query can be satisfied by an app. The web, for better and worse, will continue to be a part of our lives for a long time to come.

Image from Flickr user L.Marie
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  • Ben Popper

    Ben Popper writes at the intersection of culture and technology. His work has been published in the NY Times, Washington Post, Fast Company, Rolling Stone, The Atlantic and many others. He lives at www.benpopper.com.