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The Death of the Internet

Interesting article from Wired Magazine. Check it out. What do you think?

-DF

Wired Magazine Declares ‘The Death of the Web’: Premature, or Just Wrong? By: Carl Franzen

(Aug. 17) — You are reading these words on a soon-to-be obsolete medium, at least according to Wired magazine.

The Web is Dead. Long Live the Internet,” reads the sensational headline to the lead article (or rather, two articles placed side-by-side) of the September issue, co-written by Wired editor-in-chief Chris Anderson and Newser founder Michael Wolff.

First off, before we get to their arguments, let’s review the distinction between the two commonly conflated networks, as About.com explains:

The Internet and the World Wide Web have a whole-to-part relationship. The Internet is the large container, and the Web is a part within the container. It is common in daily conversation to abbreviate them as the “Net” and the “Web”, and then swap the words interchangeably. But to be technically precise, the Net is the restaurant, and the Web is the most popular dish on the menu.

1: The Internet is a Big Collection of Computers and Cables….
2: The Web Is a Big Collection of HTML Pages on the Internet.

Going off that analogy, Anderson and Wolff are not suggesting that the restaurant would stop serving one of its best and most popular dishes, are they?

Well, sort of: Thanks to the explosive popularity of mobile phone applications and social media, they explain (with the help of one very technicolor chart) people are spending increasingly more time accessing information on “semi-closed” or “dedicated” networks — think Facebook, Twitter, iTunes — than the wide-open Web itself.

Taken to its logical endpoint, this argument might see the end of the Web as the primary vessel of content distribution and information consumption. But Anderson and Wolff don’t go quite that far, instead clarifying that the Web’s time is indeed up, but basically only as the primary digital marketplace, i.e., where people go to pay for information, or exchange some of their information for some of someone else’s.

What will the future portend?As Wolff writes “We are returning to a world that already exists — one in which we chase the transformative effects of music and film instead of our brief (relatively speaking) flirtation with the transformative effects of the Web.”

But as with any grand tech prognostication, more than a few grains of salt are necessary for digestion. The death card has been dealt on many a technological fad in the past, as I explained earlier this year when Google‘s European chief John Herlihy predicted the rapidly-approaching “irrelevance” of the desktop computer by 2013.

Indeed, already, in the few hours since the article went live, other bloggers have begun poking and prodding holes through the article’s central thesis.

TechCrunch
‘s Erick Schonfeld, for one, noted that the Web browser remains and is likely to endure as the most popular method for accessing content on the Internet:

These shifts happen in waves. First the browser took over everything, then developers wanted more options and moved to apps (desktop and mobile), but the browser will eventually absorb those features, and so the leapfrogging continues. The ubiquity of the browser overcomes most of its technical deficiencies. Even in mobile, people will become overwhelmed by apps and the browser will make a comeback.

Over at Boing Boing, Rob Beschizza reworked Wired’s graph and discovered that “it doesn’t even seem to be the case that the Web’s ongoing growth has slowed. It’s rather been joined by even more explosive growth in file-sharing and video, which is often embedded in the Web in any case.”
Plus, as The Atlantic‘s Derek Thompson keenly observed when news of this cover story first leaked at the beginning of the month: “It’s an interesting story. It might even have the virtue of being true. But Chris Anderson won’t be the first person to (allegedly) declare the Web dead.” And it’s still here, after all of that. Surf’s up, dudes.

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Written by David Frederick

August 18, 2010 at 4:40 PM

Posted in General, Technology, Web

Experts Divided Over Google-Verizon Net Proposal

Here is an interesting article regarding Google’s and Verizon’s proposed legislation on Net Neutrality. This is a fascinating subject and I wanted to share this article from MIT’s Technology Review with you. But from my perspective, I am skeptical about anything coming out of Google that involves “legislation” considering Google’s close ties to the White House/Administration and the ongoing federal and congressional investigation. Makes me nervous. So much for a company that professes do NO harm! Hippocratic oath for Google or Hypocritical oath? Be the way, I am not anti-Google. Quite the contrary. But I am distrustful of companies that engage politically and sneaky ways. Either go for the gusto and proclaim your affiliation or shut up. But don’t sneak and slither around the back rooms. Its slimy, people don’t like it and it negatively impacts your brand.

OK, on to this article

-DF

Experts Divided Over Google-Verizon Net Proposal
Some see it as a positive step–others see loopholes.
By Erica Naone

Earlier this week, Google and Verizon released a joint proposal for legislation to govern how Internet service providers manage online traffic. Though the companies touted their support of an open Internet, the proposal has come under criticism for providing loopholes that some say could allow Internet service providers–or large Web companies–to grab an unfair advantage by prioritizing certain Web content.

The proposal has ignited a firestorm of debate around “net neutrality,” the principle that Internet service providers should not be able to prioritize how content, such as streaming video or peer-to-peer content–or traffic from a particular customer–is delivered. The debate has also centered on how companies could, by extension, limit the types of applications users can access, or what devices they can connect to a network.

The issue came to a head in April this year, when a court ruling limited the Federal Communications Commission’s ability to regulate how carriers handle traffic. The FCC had sought to stop Comcast from throttling traffic from the file-sharing service BitTorrent on its network.

Google and Verizon’s new proposal calls for the FCC to investigate claims of unfair treatment, and for a standards-setting body to outline the difference between actions that must be taken to reasonably manage network traffic and actions that stack the deck in favor of a particular party.

Both companies say that the proposal works in favor of an open Internet. Google CEO Eric Schmidt said in a press conference that the legislation “would establish a new and enforceable prohibition against discrimination for wireline and broadband Internet services, specifically, no discrimination against or prioritizing of lawful Internet content apps or services in a way that harms users or competition, no blocking or degrading of Internet content and applications.”

Some experts say the proposal could help produce a real resolution on net neutrality.

“I would hope that the Verizon-Google proposal breaks the logjam on network neutrality, by showing there is room for compromise,” says Kevin Werbach, an associate professor of legal studies and business ethics at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and founder of the technology consulting firm Supernova Group. “The proposal has problems, but it’s a real effort to find common ground between network operators and companies that innovate on top of the Internet.”

But two aspects of the document have watchdogs worried. One is a provision that would let broadband providers offer “additional, differentiated services,” that would be not be subject to the same rules as the open internet. These would possibly include “health care monitoring, the smart grid, advanced educational services, or new entertainment and gaming options.” The other is the absence of any rules regarding wireless Internet traffic. The proposal points to the “still-nascent nature of the wireless broadband marketplace” and suggests requiring carriers to be transparent to users about how they handle wireless traffic, but imposes no additional rules.

Experts have debated what these exceptions may mean and what the two companies are really proposing.

“As many others have noted, the exclusion of wireless from all but the transparency requirements is a dreadful idea,” wrote Cindy Cohn, general counsel and legal director for the Electronic Frontier Foundation in a legislative analysis of the proposal. “Neutrality should be the rule for all services, and a distinction between wired and wireless not only defies reason, it also abandons the portion of the Internet that is currently most lacking in openness and neutrality.”

Some, however, agree that the wireless arena is problematic. Mung Chiang, an associate professor of electrical engineering at Princeton University who studies the modeling, analysis, and design of networks, says that wireless carriers truly are dealing with unique problems of competition and network congestion, a trend that is only increasing as more types of wireless devices come on the market. Chiang believes it’s not a good idea to introduce regulations before the technology has solidified.

While Werbach agrees that wireless is different, he argues that the legislation needs to include conditions that would trigger the FCC to intervene once the market has matured.

Experts have also expressed concern that allowing carriers to offer additional services could undermine the public Internet. Gigi B. Sohn, president and cofounder of the advocacy firm Public Knowledge, said in a statement: “While there would be no pay for priority on the best efforts Internet, there are almost no limits on so-called ‘managed services,’ other than that they would need to be ‘distinguishable in purpose and scope’ from the Internet.”

Public Knowledge and other groups have expressed concern that carriers would have carte blanche to create special offerings that could exclude those on the public Internet.

Chiang says, however, that the Internet is already “a loose confederation of subnetworks,” and he believes it may be necessary to have special provisions for certain types of traffic. For example, it may be sensible to treat imaging data relating to an important surgical procedure differently from other traffic. He sees “nothing intrinsically wrong” with carriers creating special-purpose services, though he acknowledges the potential for abuse–if, for example, carriers used this as a way to ban competitors’ products.

Werbach agrees, saying, “There’s no perfect way to differentiate ahead of time. For example, I haven’t heard much concern that Comcast’s XFinity Digital Voice phone service, which has millions of subscribers, has undermined the open Internet. That’s a managed service that expressly discriminates and excludes other providers.”

Provided these loopholes are monitored, some see the Google-Verizon proposal as a positive move. “While most of the reaction has focused on Google,” Werbach says, “the fact that Verizon accepted enforceable nondiscrimination obligations is a major step in the right direction. Those who argue that broadband providers won’t invest without freedom to discriminate will have a much harder time making that case after this proposal.”

Written by David Frederick

August 12, 2010 at 9:44 AM

Will Apple’s Latest Browser Hurt Publishers?

In line with my last posting, here is another take on this movement to remove ads from web pages. Check it out.

-DF

Will Apple’s Latest Browser Hurt Publishers?

Removing ads from Web pages may be an attempt to push content creators toward the iPad and iPhone.
By Stephen Cass

The latest version of Apple’s Web browser, Safari 5, sports a feature called “Reader” that concatenates the multi-page articles seen on most news sites (including Technology Review‘s) into a single scrollable window. According to Apple, the stripped down format “removes annoying ads and other visual distractions from online articles.”

It, of course, also removes advertising revenues from the people who created those articles. Ad blocking software is nothing new; personally I’ve appreciated the option to block pop-ups that are incorporated into most modern browsers. What is new is that Apple doesn’t give the user the option to not block ads in Reader. This option wouldn’t be technically difficult to add in comparison to the work Apple has already done on developing Reader: most websites already provide links to stripped down versions of their articles, under a “printer-friendly” link, which contain one or two static ads that could be integrated into the Reader presentation of a story without being disruptive.

Why would a reader want an ad-enabled version? Well, for the same reason I don’t install any of the freely available ad blockers; I’m happy to support sites that I think strike a reasonable balance between advertising and content. Having to, say, watch a few 30-second commercial breaks in exchange for free video-on-demand from Hulu seems a fair deal. Similarly, seeing a few display ads scattered around a news article also seems like a fair exchange for original reporting and writing. But Apple’s Reader doesn’t give users the flexibility to make that choice; if they want Reader’s functionality, they have to accept its philosophy, which is firmly oriented towards what’s best for Apple, not users.

Some have interpreted Apple’s ad-less Reader as a blow for the little guy. But I don’t think Apple really cares about sparing surfers from advertising; it seems more likely the Reader is designed to push publishers towards delivering their products via custom apps on the iPad and iPhone, where ads can’t be blocked. And if, as Apple hopes, publishers serve ads using Apple’s own iAd platform, the company will happily take its 40 percent right off the top.

I can only imagine how loudly Apple would complain if news websites retaliated against Reader by blocking Safari outright, and heaven knows no-one wants a return to the days when many sites came with a notice stating “Warning: Your browser is not supported!” if you dared to visit them with anything other than the one or two browsers that had been officially blessed. Instead, I hope a balance between Apple and content providers can be struck, perhaps as simply as by adding a “Display printer-friendly ads” checkbox in Safari’s preferences.

Written by David Frederick

August 11, 2010 at 7:45 AM

The End of Open Web?

I came across this interesting article regarding the “open web” and the push to remove ad’s and other design elements from web pages, from MIT’s Technology Review and wanted to share. What’s really interesting is the perspective of key players in the space on this activity. Check it out.

-DF

The End of the Open Web?

Reading apps like Flipboard–which remove ads and other design elements from pages–are putting more pressure on Web publishers.

“We are witnessing the start of a new business model for the internet.”

— Media mogul Rupert Murdoch, head of News Corp, the world’s second-largest media conglomerate, on delivery of content via tablet computers

“Compared to the mobile sites most publishers put up online (ahem!), [iPad “social magazine” app] Flipboard is a wonder.”

Dan Costa of PC Magazine

“When we build our business model here, it’s not going to be on the backs of the publishers, it will be with the publishers–you know we’re going to make money with them not off of them. You’ll see that play out as we continue to go forward with the business model.”

— Flipboard founder Mike McCue

Modern web design is awful.

Banner ads compete for our attention with lists of related articles and other come-hithers designed to keep us on a website as long as possible. The entire enterprise of web design for news sites — the sites that are supposed to maintain the well-informed citizenry that is the foundation of a functioning democracy — is aimed at revenue generation.

Publishers subject their users to noxious design in part because they have to: the web falls woefully short in terms of generating revenue comparable to what’s been lost in print by countless newspapers and magazines, so anything that multiplies ad revenue (more ad positions) and pageviews (more promotion) has to be implemented.

To address this situation, a growing list of tools promises to return our online reading experience to the distraction-free Eden we experience in print. Readability, the new Safari web browser, paid mobile apps and now the “social magazine” Flipboard all do one thing well: strip away everything on the screen but the content itself.

The problem, of course, is that the “everything else” that a growing chorus of web users don’t want to see includes advertisements – the one thing keeping the information flowing.

“If Flipboard isn’t the future of magazines, it is at least a very good take on the future.”

Farhad Manjoo of Slate

The solution to the problem of how to deliver content without ads is obvious: lock up your content and charge for it. That’s what Rupert Murdoch is doing. He says this strategy is already working well for the Times of London. Meanwhile, U.S. magazine giant Conde Nast is testing a more tepid version of the same strategy with its iPad apps – launching content on its app that will appear on the web later, if ever.

A second solution is to continue to deliver ads, but to increase their utility and presence to the point that they resemble regular magazine advertising. That’s the strategy proposed by iPad digital magazine meta-app Flipboard, which proposes to share the resulting ad revenue with publishers.

There’s only one problem with that solution: if Flipboard continues its explosive growth, turning every news site on the web into just one more incoming stream of content, it will become a defacto gate-keeper – every magazine with digital content will have a new expense on their balance sheet: a tithe paid to Flipboard.

What’s more, having digital content further atomized into individual articles and delivered through a central “social magazine” will strip publishers of other important sources of revenue that revolve around knowing who their readers are. They’ll no longer be able to sell mailing lists, conduct the kind of reader surveys that allow them to sell ads in the first place, or conduct cross-promotion and subscription campaigns in general.

Publishing on the web is at a crossroads: the open system designed originally for the free exchange of scientific knowledge is great at distributing information, and consequently, pretty terrible at creating the artificial scarcity and delivering captive audiences for advertising messages – on which most for-profit publishing depends.

On the other hand, magazines as paid apps is a model that shows at least some promise, and the proliferation of paywalls, whether or not it succeeds, indicates that some publishers are at the point that they’ll get their readers to pay for news or die trying.

The end result appears to be a balkanization of news: sites like the Huffington Post that reprint generic facts on the one hand, while everything that requires more than 15 minutes work at the rewrite desk known as the blogosphere goes behind an iron curtain of DRM, paid apps and specialized devices.

Unless, of course, companies like Flipboard can deliver on their promise to “save the media.”

“I can understand why there might be questions about something new that’s different, but we’ve really tried to do it from the point of view of the publishers, and we believe that we can create an environments that’s actually really great for the publishers, really great for the readers, and also really great for the advertisers.”

— Flipboard founder Mike McCue

Written by David Frederick

August 11, 2010 at 7:36 AM