Why ‘The Web is dead’ argument should include enterprise IT

I don’t know why people keep criticising Chris Anderson online when they know it will only help propagate his ideas more widely.

Although this is not the first time the editor of Wired magazine has drawn a chorus of disapproval for something he’s written, the prevailing pain point for many bloggers seems to be that an article headlined “The Web is Dead. Long Live the Internet,” is a sensationalistic tactic unworthy of the man who explained the “long tail” phenomenon and charted the rise of “free” as an important 21st century currency. Not since Nicholas Carr published “IT Doesn’t Matter” have a handful of words generated more rebuttals than the bulk of the actual article’s argument.

I think many, if not most people would agree with Anderson’s central point – that applications using the Internet as a transport mechanism are quickly growing and may even eclipse the browser as the primary platform for accessing a variety of software programs and services. Consider the opening paragraph:

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. And you are not alone.

What most people seem to ignore is the fact that these are all consumer examples. In the enterprise, Anderson’s scenario is even more pronounced. You come into work and check e-mail through Outlook, or perhaps on your smartphone or BlackBerry to which Outlook mail is sent. You may have some browser-based systems available to you – perhaps a corporate intranet – but more likely a central drive of shared files or an enterprise content management system. Even if you’re constantly Googling, you’re also using Word, Excel and other applications which are desktop-resident.

IT departments have made some use of the browser, of course. There are supplier portals, customer portals and of course e-commerce sites, but it might be fair to say that the Web, if not dead in enterprise IT, has been slow to mature. Anderson cites quality of service or performance issues or just plain convenience as main drivers towards an app-dominant Internet. The same thing may be true of corporations, but add in a lot much higher concern over security and control, the same things which have inhibited the use of public cloud services.

What resonated for me was Anderson’s observation that most of us use TweetDeck instead of the Twitter Web interface. This is true, but in theory wouldn’t it be easier for many firms to use Google Docs, accessible from anywhere, rather than Microsoft Word? Conversely, why aren’t we seeing more and more enterprise software being developed as rich Internet applications that can be used online and off by mobile workers? Why wouldn’t it make sense for those supplier, customer and e-commerce portals to be served up as downloads from some really cool business-oriented app store? Maybe it’s a time thing, but as Anderson pushes us all to think beyond the browser, he and others should also be thinking beyond the consumer.

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