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The web may not prevail

By December 22, 2011 December 24th, 2011 21 Comments

Regular readers will know that I’m a strong believer in open standards.  I think they provide the best platform for innovation and are the best protection against monopolists.  Hence I would love it if the open web prevailed, and the rising power of gatekeepers like Apple, Amazon, Facebook and even Google annoys me as a consumer and worries me as an investor.

The future of the web has been the topic of much debate since Forrester CEO George Colony predicted the end of the web and an era of the ‘app internet’ in his talk at Le Web earlier this month.  Fred Wilson, Mark Suster and others came out in defence of the web, but it seems to me that the commentary has been largely one sided.  Perhaps that is unsurprising given that as VCs and bloggers most of us have benefited hugely in the past from the open web and stand to continue to benefit into the future.

However, even though the open web is better, it won’t necessarily prevail.  In a great post last September Joe Hewitt set out why.

Firstly, at the most basic level the web is just a collection of protocols and languages.  It has no unique characteristics that assure it a permanent place in our information architectures:

The HTML, CSS, and JavaScript triumvirate are just another platform, like Windows and Android and iOS

Secondly, there are plausible non-web visions of the future:

I can easily see a world in which Web usage falls to insignificant levels compared to Android, iOS, and Windows …. The Web will be just another app that you use when you want to find some information, like Wikipedia, but it will no longer be your primary window. The Web will no longer be the place for social networks, games, forums, photo sharing, music players, video players, word processors, calendaring, or anything interactive. Newspapers and blogs will be replaced by Facebook and Twitter and you will access them only through native apps. HTTP will live on as the data backbone used by native applications, but it will no longer serve those applications through HTML.

An alternative non-open web vision of the future is one in which access to services is controlled by an oligopoly consisting of Apple, Amazon, Google and Facebook.

I don’t come with any solutions, but rather with a request that we all remain open to a full consideration of the strengths and weaknesses of the open web, and of alternative models – there can be no sacred cows.  That way we will have a better chance of preserving what is really important – and that is open and even access to content and distribution for consumers, and by extension for startups.

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