Dave Winer wants us to ignore the rapid adoption of apps — primarily driven by the genius generation of smart phones now on the market — because he says they ‘are not the future’. This reminds me of the Chico Marx line, ‘Who are you going to believe? Me, or your own eyes?’
Leaving aside the astonishing proliferation of apps, what is it that Winer is trying to get at? What would lead to the fall of the applications ecology out there?
Dave Winer, Why Apps Are Not The Future
Visualize each of the apps they want you to use on your iPad or iPhone as a silo. A tall vertical building. It might feel very large on the inside, but nothing goes in or out that isn’t well-controlled by the people who created the app. That sucks!
The great thing about the web is linking. I don’t care how ugly it looks and how pretty your app is, if I can’t link in and out of your world, it’s not even close to a replacement for the web. It would be as silly as saying that you don’t need oceans because you have a bathtub. How nice your bathtub is. Try building a continent around it if you want to get my point.
We pay some people to be Big Thinkers for us, but mostly they just say things that please people with money. It pleases the money folk to think that the wild and crazy and unregulated world of the web is no longer threatening them. That users are happy to live in a highly regulated, Disneyfied app space, without all that messy freedom.
I’ll stay with the web.
So when Dave means ‘the web’, he means the generation of the web where we were primarily interested in web pages and how they referenced each other by hyperlinks. This is what I call the Web of Pages, and it was a very productive basis for a decade, during which time we rapidly developed and migrated onto the Web of Flow, which is where we are mostly living now.
Instead of pages and links, the most important objects in the Web of Flow are people and relationships. Instead of wandering around the web, jumping from page to page using browsers, people now use social apps, and those apps bring information to us through social relationships.
Yes, we still use URLs as convenient IDs for snippets of information, and those are the handles being passed around by apps, but they are increasingly becoming proxies for information that is embedded on the pages, used increasingly as a mechanism to fetch the information and bring it into a social context.
But Dave thinks we want to live in a 2008 era forever. I wrote about some of these arguments a while back in a piece called Why Closed Works: Moving Past Steampunk Thinking About The Future Of Computing, which dealt with the open/closed issue surrounding the rise of apps, and the fall of the WIMP (windows, icons, menus, pointer) style of human-computer interaction.
Personally, I want a future where we move farther away from the physical layers of the web and higher into the social layers. Here’s what I think is right around the corner:
- Social Operating Systems — Apple and Google (and perhaps Microsoft and Facebook, as well) will roll out operating systems in which social communication and connection will be fundamental primitives, just like the file system was part of previous OS’s. Apps will be able to rely on the OS supported notions of identity and connection, instead of every application implementing the basics over independently.
- The Fall Of The Browser — The browser is an afterthought, still an odd man out in the 2008 era model of computing. In a sense, this is because the web is an afterthought in older OS’s. We are now seeing OS’s where the web is the primary context, and the local hard drive is increasingly treated as a cache. When the web is primary, and all apps navigate and negotiate it, the browser starts to seem more like Apple’s Terminal program, that you will use once in a while when things get broken, and some people will never use it at all.
- Social is not Disney — Moving into a world of social apps is not necessarily a simplification of the big bad complex web. It is a different web, with different complexities.
Lastly, Dave seems to have an issue with ‘Big Thinkers’ who supposedly say what they do to make others — those with ‘big money’ — happy. But I don’t see that people advocating a new model of communication and connection through a different sort of web are necessarily doing the work of monied interests. I’m advocating it, personally, because I think it will lead to a richer user experience, and ultimately, stronger social connection in the world.