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The Web is Dead? What Wired Really Meant, and Why You Should Care

If I were awarding points based on shock value alone, the most recent cover story of Wired magazine would receive top honors. "The Web is dead." A statement like that probably sends chills down the spine of the typical business executive. "Dead? I'm just getting used to the Web, and it's already dead?" Even the Starbucks-sipping, ironic-t-shirt wearing hipster probably spit his Mocha Frappuccino all over his MacBook Air when he read that line. "Dead? Holy #$&@+! How'd I miss that?"

Of course, when you read the Wired article and the related discussion, you realize that Wired's point is much more subtle. For one, the full headline reads: "The Web is dead. Long Live the Internet." To some, that distinction is minor; what's the difference between the Web and the Internet? Well, it turns out that Wired is defining the "Web" very specifically as activity that occurs in a Web browser. Email, apps, streaming video, peer-to-peer, online gaming - none of that counts. In addition, websites like Facebook, Twitter and NetFlix are counted against the Web, since much of the activity on those sites comes through apps and Internet-enabled devices rather than the browser. The Internet, Wired says, is alive and well; it's just the Web that is dead.

Also, what do they mean by "dead"? Well, in this case, they mean that the Web is dead as a "viable model for professional content". In other words, it's been tough for certain industries to figure out how to make the Web profitable.

While there are certainly signs that the wild west, free-for-all online anarchy of the past decade is becoming more controlled, I think Wired's authors are having trouble seeing beyond their own industry and their conclusions are misleading. Wired editor Chris Anderson says, "the Web has had nearly twenty years to provide a viable business model for content, and so far it has failed to do so." That may be true for publishing, but it completely overlooks the many industries that have found viable business models online. Mail order companies, dating services, shipping companies...these industries thrived on the Web, and this list is by no means exhaustive.

Hyperbole aside, there is an important element of truth in the Wired article: the online world continues to change. What worked in 1999 didn't work in 2009. And what worked in 2009 won't work in 2019. Business models that rely on the online ecosystem for success will need to be much more flexible than in the past. A simple site on the Web is probably not enough anymore. To engage your customers, you might need to follow them to Facebook or Twitter or their smartphone.

It's also important not to limit your online thinking to what happens in the Web browser itself. In a world with a ubiquitous online connection, the browser is only one way to access the Internet. And it's often not the most convenient way for users. If your company hasn't brainstormed the possibilities for a smartphone or desktop app and how to take advantage of social networks like Facebook and Twitter, you need to do it right away. The Web may not be dead, but it's certainly not the only game in town.

Filed Under: web

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