Today the good folks at TEDx Thessaloniki released the recording of my talk “The web is dead“.
I’ve given you the slides and notes earlier here on this blog but here’s another recap of what I talked about:
- The excitement for the web is waning – instead apps are the cool thing
- At first glance, the reason for this is that apps deliver much better on a mobile form factor and have a better, high fidelity interaction patterns
- If you scratch the surface of this message though you find a few disturbing points:
- Everything in apps is a number game – the marketplaces with the most apps win, the apps with the most users are the ones that will get more users as those are the most promoted ones
- The form factor of an app was not really a technical necessity. Instead it makes software and services a consumable. The full control of the interface and the content of the app lies with the app provider, not the users. On the web you can change the display of content to your needs, you can even translate and have content spoken out for you. In apps, you get what the provider allows you to get
- The web allowed anyone to be a creator. The curb to mount from reader to writer was incredibly low. In the apps world, it becomes much harder to become a creator of functionality.
- Content creation is easy in apps. If you create the content the app makers wants you to. The question is who the owner of that content is, who is allowed to use it and if you have the right to stop app providers from analysing and re-using your content in ways you don’t want them to. Likes and upvotes/downvotes aren’t really content creation. They are easy to do, don’t mean much but make sure the app creator has traffic and interaction on their app – something that VCs like to see.
- Apps are just another form factor to control software for the benefit of the publisher. Much like movies on DVDs are great, because when you scratch them you need to buy a new one, publishers can now make software services become outdated, broken and change, forcing you to buy a new one instead of enjoying new features cropping up automatically.
- Apps lack the data interoperability of the web. If you want your app to succeed, you need to keep the users locked into yours and not go off and look at others. That way most apps are created to be highly addictive with constant stimulation and calls to action to do more with them. In essence, the business models of apps these days force developers to create needy, bullying tamagotchi and call them innovation
You might have realized I’m not from here and I’m sorry for the translators because I speak fast, but it’s a good idea to know that life is cruel and you have to do a job.
Myself, I’ve been a web developer for 17 years like something like that now. I’ve dedicated my life to the web. I used to be a radio journalist. I used to be a travel agent, but that’s all boring because you saw people today who save people’s lives and change the life of children and stand there with their stick and do all kind of cool stuff.
I’m just this geek in the corner that just wants to catch this camera… how cool is that thing? They also gave me a laser pointer but it didn’t give me kitten. This is just really annoying.
I want to talk today about my wasted life because you heard it this morning already: we have a mobile revolution and you see it in press all over: the web is dead.
You don’t see excitement about it anymore. You don’t see people like, “Go to www awesome whatever .com” Nobody talks like this anymore. They shouldn’t have talked like that in the past as well but nobody does it anymore.
The web is not the cool thing. It’s not: “I did e-commerce yesterday.” Nobody does that, instead it is, “Oh, I’ll put things on my phone.”
This is what killed the web. The mobile phone factor is just not liking itself to the web. It’s not fun to type in TEDxThessaloniki.com with your two thumbs and forgetting how many S’s are there in Thessaloniki and then going to some strange website.
We text each other all the time, but typing in URL it feels icky, it feels not natural for a phone, so we needed to do something different that’s why we came up with the QR codes – robot barf as I keep calling it – because that didn’t work either. It’s beautiful isn’t it? You go there with your phone and you start scanning it and then two and a half minutes later with only 30% of your battery left, it goes to some URL.
Not a single mobile operating system came out with the QR reader out of the box. It’s worrying, so I realized there has to be a chance and the change happened. The innovation, the new beginning, the new dawn of the internet was the app.
“There’s an app for that,” was the great talk.
“There’s an app for everything. They’re beautiful. Apps are great.” I can explain it to my … well, not my mom but other people’s moms: “There’s an icon, you click on it, you open it and this is the thing and you use that now. There’s no address bar, there’s nothing to understand about domains, HTTP, cookies, all kind of things. You open it, you play with it and they’re beautiful.”
The interaction between the hardware and software with apps is gorgeous. On iOS, it’s beautiful what you can do and you cannot do any of that on the web with iOS because Apple … Well, because you can’t.
Apps are focused. That’s a really good thing about them, the problem with the web was that we’re like little rabbits. We’re running around like kittens with the laser pointer and we’re like, “Oh, that’s 20 tabs open.” Your friend is uploading something and there’s downloading something in the background and it’s multi-tasking.
With apps, you do one thing and one thing well. That is good because the web interfaces that we built over the last years were just like this much content, that much ads and blinking stuff. People don’t want that anymore. They want to do something with an app and that’s what they are focused and they make sense.
In order not to be unemployed and make my father not proud because he said, “The computer thing will never work out,” anyways, I thought it’s a good plan to start my own app idea. I’m going to pitch that to you tonight. I know there’s this few VC people in the audience. I’m completely buy-able. A few million dollars, I’m okay with that.
When I did my research, scientific research by scientists, I found out that most apps are used in leisure time. They’re not used during their work time. You will be hard pushed to find a boss that says like, “Wilkins, by lunch break you have to have a new extra level in Candy Crush or you’re fired.” It’s not going to happen. Most companies, I don’t know – some startup maybe.
We use them in our free time and being a public speaker and traveling all the time, I find that people use apps the most where you are completely focused and alone, in other words: public toilets. This goes so far that with every application that came out, the time spent in the facilities becomes longer and longer. At Snake, it was like 12 minutes and Angry Birds who are about 14, but Candy Crush and with Flappy Bird…
It happens. You sit there and you hear people inside getting a new high score and like, “Yeah, look what I did?” You’re like, “Yeah, look what I want to do.” That’s when I thought, “Why leave that to chance? Why is there no app that actually makes going to the public facilities, not a boring biological thing but makes it a social thing?”
I’m proposing the app called, “What’s Out.” What’s Out is a local application much like FourSquare and others that you can use to good use while you’re actually sitting down where you do things that you know how to do anyways without having to think about them.
You can check in, you can become the mayor, you can send reviews, you can actually check in with your friends and earn badges like three stalls in a row.All these things that make social apps social apps – and why not? You can actually link the photo that you took of the food in Instagram to your check in on What’s Out and that gets shared on the internet.
You can also pay for the full version and it doesn’t get shared on your Facebook account.
You might think I’m a genius, you might think that I have this great idea that nobody had before, but the business model is already in use and has been tested for years successfully in the canine market. The thing is dogs don’t have a thumb so they didn’t tweet about it. They also can’t write so they didn’t put a patent on it so I can do that.
Seriously now though, this is what I hate about apps. They are a hype, they’re no innovation, they’re nothing new. We had software that was doing one thing and one thing well before, we call it Word and Outlook. We called it things that we had to install and then do something with it.
The problem with apps is that the business model is all about hype. WhatsApp was not bought because it’s great software. WhatsApp was bought because millions of people use it. It’s because it actually allowed people to send text messages without paying for it.
Everybody now sees this as the new thing. “We got to have an app, you got to have an app.” For an app to be successful, it has to play a massive numbers game. An app needs millions of users continuously. Twitter has to change their business model every few months just to show more and more and more and more numbers.
It doesn’t really matter what the thing does. What the app does is irrelevant as long as it gets enough people addicted to using it continuously. It’s all about the eyeballs and you put content in these apps that advertisers can use that people can sell to other people. You are becoming the product inside a product.
That even goes into marketplaces. I work on Firefox OS and we have a marketplace for the emerging markets where people can build their first app without having to spend money or have a good computer or download a massive SDK, but people every time when I go to them like, “How many apps do you have in the marketplace?” “I don’t know. The HTML5 apps, they could be anything.”
“If it’s not a few million, the marketplace isn’t good.”
I go to a baker if they have three good things. I don’t need them to have 500 different rolls, but the marketplaces have to full. We just go for big numbers. That’s to me is the problem that we have with apps. I’m not questioning that the mobile web is the coming thing and is the current thing.
The desktop web is dying, it’s on decline, but apps to me are just a marketing model at the moment. They’re bringing the scratchability of CDs, the breaking of clothes, the outdated looking things of shoes into software. It’s becoming a consumer product that can be outdated and can look boring after a while.
That to me is not innovation. This is not bringing us further in the evolution of technology because I’ve seen the evolution. I came from radio to the internet. Out of a sudden, my voice was heard worldwide and not just in my hometown without me having to do anything extra.
Will you download a Christian Heilmann app? Probably not. Might you put my name in Google and find millions of things that I put in there over the last 17 years and some of them you like, probably and you can do that as well.
For apps to be successful, they have to lock you in.
The interoperability of the internet that made it so exciting, the things that Tim showed like I can use this thing and then I can do that, and then I use that. Then I click from Wikipedia to YouTube and from YouTube to this and I translate it if I need to because it’s my language. Nothing of that works in apps unless the app offers that functionality for a certain upgrade of $12.59 or something like that.
To be successful, apps have to be greedy. They have to keep you in themselves and they cannot talk to other apps unless they’re massively other successful apps. That to me doesn’t allow me as a publisher to come up with something new. It just means that the big players are getting bigger all the time and the few winners are out there and the other just go away and a lot of money has been wasted in the whole process.
In essence, apps are like Tamagotchi. Anybody old enough to remember Tamagotchi? These were these little toys for kids that were like a pet that couldn’t afford pets like in Japan, impossible. These little things were like, “Feed me, play with me, get me a playmate, do me these kind of things, do me this kind of thing.” After a few years, people were like, “Whatever.” Then rusting somewhere in the corner and collect dust and nobody cares about them any longer.
Imagine the annoyance that people have with Tamagotchi with over a hundred apps on your phone. It happens when your Android apps, for example, you leave your Android phone with like 600 updates like, “Oh please, I need a new update because I want to show you more ads.” I don’t even have insight of what updates do to the functionality of the app, it’s just I have to download another 12 MB.
If I’m on a contract where I have to pay per megabyte, that’s not fun. How is that innovative? How is that helping me? It’s helping the publisher. We’re making the problem of selling software our problem and we do it just by saying it’s a nicer interface.
Apps are great. Focus on one thing, one thing well, great. The web that we know right now is too complex. We can learn a lot from that one focus thing, but we shouldn’t let ourselves be locked into one environment. You upload pictures to Instagram now, have you read the terms and conditions?
Do you know who owns these pictures? Do you know if this picture could show up next to something that you don’t agree with like a political party because they have the right to show it? Nobody cares about them. Nobody reads that up.
What Tim showed, the image with the globe with the pictures, that was all from Flickr. Flickr, I was part of that group, licensed everything with Creative Commons. You knew that data is yours. There’s a button for downloading all your pictures. If you don’t want it anymore, here’s your pictures, thank you, we’re gone.
With other services, you get everything for free with ads next to it and your pictures might end up on like free singles in your area without you having to do anything with it. You don’t have insight. You don’t own the interface. You don’t own the software.
All in all, apps to me are a step back to the time that I replaced with the internet. A time when software came in a consumable format without me knowing what’s going on. In a browser, I can highlight part of the text, I can copy it into your email and send it to you. I can translate it. I can be blind and listen to a website. I can change things around. I can delete parts of it if it’s too much content there. I can use an ad blocker if I don’t like ads.
On apps, I don’t have any of that. I’m just the slave to the machine and I do it because everybody else does it. I’ve got 36,000 followers on Twitter, I don’t know why. I’m just putting things out there, but you see for example, Beyonce has 13.3 million followers on Twitter and she did six updates.
Twitter and other apps give you the idea that you have a social life that you don’t have. We stop having experiences and we talk about experiences instead. You go to concerts and you got a guy with an iPad in front of you filming the band like, “That’s going to be great sound and thank you for being in my face. I wanted to see the band, that’s what I came here for.” Your virtual life is doing well right? Everybody loves you are there. You don’t have to talk to real people. That would be boring”. Let’s not go back in time. Let’s not go back where software was there for us to just consume and take in.
I would have loved Word to have more functionality in 1995. I couldn’t get it because there wasn’t even add-ons. I couldn’t write any add-on. With the web, I can teach any of you in 20 minutes how to write your first website. HTML page, HTML5 app give me an hour and you learn it.
The technologies are decentralized. They’re open. They’re easy to learn and they’re worldwide. With apps, we go back to just one world that has it. What’s even worse is that we mix software with hardware again. “Oh you want that cool new game. You’re on Android? No, you got to wait seven months. You got to have an iPhone. Wait, do you have the old iPhone? No you got to buy the new one.”
How is that innovation? How is that taking it further? Software and technology is there to enrich our lives, to make it more magical, to be entertaining, to be beautiful. Right now, the model how we build apps right now, the economic model means that you put your life into apps and they make money with it. Something has gone very, very wrong there. I don’t think it’s innovation, I think it’s just dirty business and making money.
I challenge you all to go out and not upload another picture into an app or not type something into another closed environment. Find a way to put something on the web. This could be a blog software. This could be a comment on a newspaper.
Everything you put on that decentralized, beautiful, linked worldwide network of computers, and television sets, and mobile phones, and wearables, and Commodore 64s that people put their own things in, anything you put there is a little sign and a little sign can become a ripple and if more people like it, it become a wave. I’m looking forward to surfing the waves that you all generate. Thanks very much.