A 2010 article in Wired declared the end of the World Wide Web. While arguing about the root cause of its demise, in its place, both sides of the argument predicted an Internet of apps and more commercialized, possibly stove-piped, experiences that were somehow different than browsing.
The basis of this argument is flawed. We use the Internet far more than we did 20 years ago. The article’s visualization of Internet usage was based on percentage of bandwidth; it did not consider that the overall bandwidth of “The Internet” exceeded the expectations of the early 90s. Even by the most ridiculously conservative guess, the right side of the graph below should be 20,000 to 27,000,000 times taller than the left side.
Additionally, although video content and peer-to-peer content (not to mention gaming) have increased beyond the capability to imagine, the amount of Web activity has not exactly tapered off. It is just smaller relative to the much more weighty (and less compressible) video content that moved from our broadcast airwaves and cable company private networks onto the Internet.
We imagine “the Web” as a bunch of humans furiously clicking and typing at their browsers making stuff appear on their screens for visual consumption. And that does still happen. However, with increasing frequency this is happening between computational agents and devices, as well as humans. It’s as if we hired machine servants to do our work for us. To me, this is still “the Web.” This is exactly the model we’ve been sold about how pervasive computing (the so-called Internet of Things) might work.
A more important point that the article mentions is that commercial interests have tried to capitalize on this activity by “owning the servers,” as well as driving users (and their machine servants) onto those hosted services. (More about the dangers of this inevitable consolidation below).
The Web may not be dead…yet
In fact, a recent follow-up article in Wired revokes the previous prediction of demise. However, a series of vaguely related events in December have caused me to think that this time, it really may happen.
- Swedish authorities raided and brought down The Pirate Bay, a notorious file sharing site that was used primarily to illegally download copyrighted music, software and video content.
- BitTorrent announced Project Maelstrom, an effort to re-tool the Web browser to be able to load content over peer-to-peer shared networks rather than from known servers hosted on the Internet.
- I had an interesting conversation with a colleague about how all the “cool kids” doing high-end Web development are now moving away from Web browsers and are using toolkits like Ember.
- Hackers prevented everyone from using Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network during the vital Christmas holiday.
Root causes aside, these are all the edges of a developing trend moving away from client/server/cloud/transactional hosting… toward what?
The question we should be asking (one that we’ve explored in our own research agenda, written about, and pose often to our clients) is: “Why do we need a cloud?” Instead, should we consider a model that is less centralized and more robust than relying on the backbone of the Internet to send our data around the Earth onto huge server farms?
Yes, the Web will die.
But probably few will notice; it’s already being replaced with peer-to-peer data services that are “locally sourced” and decentralized. The desire for people to seek and share information will continue to grow, as technology becomes an extension to our being. We will share more, not less. Data sharing of the future will scale to the age of Trillions that will soon be upon us. It will be more efficient and robust to withstand both technical failures of large centralized servers, and business failures of large organizations.
This also means that the data we share might be a little less controlled and “ownable” by current, traditional commercial enterprise. Also perhaps less easily controlled by us.
This is just another inevitable turn of the innovation screw — one that will present new opportunities for those who are ready to adapt.