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The Unnatural Habitat of Science Writer John Rennie

This Just In: Web Still Alive

John Rennie

Just yesterday, Chris Anderson and Michael Wolff's article "The Web is Dead. Long Live the Internet" was officially posted on Wired.com. In it, they argue that the rise of apps for smartphones and iPads, RSS feeds, proprietary platforms like the Xbox and so on signal the end of the Web as the center of most people's online lives. In many ways, it argues loosely for a vindication of Wired's notorious "PUSH!" cover story from 1997, which also argued for the end of browsers' relevance. But honestly, between Alexis Madrigal's beautiful rebuttal at TheAtlantic.com, Rob Beschizza's devastating graphics on Boing Boing (reworking Anderson and Wolff's own choice of data), and other quick rebuttals springing up, has any ambitious piece of Internet-related punditry died a faster, more ignominious death? It seems as though the plausibility of this idea has been drained away even before issues of the paper magazine could have reached subscribers.

I don't think Anderson and Wolff's argument is entirely without merit, but the somewhat more nuanced version of it that seems more resilient is one that Farhad Manjoo endorsed in a couple of columns for Slate early this year, "Computers Should Be More Like Toasters" and "I Love the iPad" (both concurrent with the debut of Apple's iPad, which I don't see as even remotely coincidental). Manjoo was arguing for a simpler, more appliance-level interface for computers rather than the death of something as rich and vital as the Web still is. In effect, unlike Anderson and Wolff, Manjoo avoided the trap of arguing for the historically disproven "zero sum game" model of newer technologies driving older ones to extinction, which Madrigal debunks. Even if interfaces and operating systems become more app-like, the browser-mediated Web may continue to be a crucial part of most users' lives.

There's no reason to think the Web as we know it won't eventually die; most things do. And apps seem destined to play a more ubiquitous role in all our lives for some time to come; terrific. It seems doubtful those two propositions are causally linked, however.

Update (added 8/21): Far more sophisticated discussion of the points raised in the Wired article, including additional smart rebuttals, is available in this series of exchanges between Chris Anderson, Tim O'Reilly and John Batelle—served up by Wired.com itself, to its credit.