The web ain't dead

The web will die, predicts George Colony, chief executive and chairman of respected consultancy Forrester.

The web will die, predicts George Colony, chief executive and chairman of respected consultancy Forrester.

It has been the favoured way of using the internet for the past five years, but will yield, he predicts, to a new range of internet front-ends that are interactive and use applications as their currency rather than still largely passive pages. This he terms the “X-internet.”

“That judgment day will arrive very soon - in the next two to three years,” Colony suggests.

A horrifying prospect for those still busy setting up elaborate websites. But need we – indeed can we – take him seriously?

There is a tremendous investment in the web, and not only by the people and organisations running websites. Users have put their own small investment into learning how to handle and get the best out of websites, web-based search engines and other digital media couched within the familiar format of HTML and its extensions. My bet is they won’t give that up in a hurry to pursue some “next great thing” – and a new learning curve.

The web format offers so much now, through imaginative use of design, both in the layout of hyperlinks and the visual experience of the page, that it is hard to conceive of some future way of using the internet that won’t at least be web-like in its appearance and structure.

“When you go to a site in the future,” Colony says in his regular column on the Forrester website, “the server will send you a program that will load onto your PC (or Palm, or cellphone). Now you've got brains at both ends of the wire, resulting in a high-IQ, interactive, valuable conversation. Work is performed at both places, greatly increasing the richness of experience, the relevancy of content, and the amount that can get done.”

Isn’t that what Java applets were supposed to do? Plug-ins? Even huge applications like Lotus Notes utilise the internet, wide-area intranets and extranets. It looks like the X-internet is already with us; but it hasn’t killed the web.

On the contrary, many of those applications are firmly entrenched in the web structure.

What will be the “killer apps” for the new-style internet? Interviewed on radio earlier this month, Colony gave as an example a real-time “chat” interface with a customer service operative, so customers can get a quick answer to problems with the company’s equipment or services.

But the logical place for such an interface is surely within the company’s website – with tempting banner ads flicking in front of the customer’s eyes as he/she “chats” with the serviceperson. Few companies are going to give that up for a slimmed down interface with no complications or distractions.

Colony at least makes a brief reference to some of the older non-web applications – primitive search engines WAIS and Gopher and the Usenet news service – but only to deride them as parts of the internet whose usefulness has passed, as the web too will some day pass.

Hang on, George; maybe it’s evidence of my advancing years, but I still read and contribute to Usenet newsgroups, and I haven’t seen much drop-off in the numbers debating through that forum, or in the number of topics represented.

As for WAIS and Gopher, they were succeeded by search engines and portals operating, guess where, on the web.

I’m an early enough internet initiate to use, still, the specialist email application Eudora. The next generation – as represented by my daughters and their friends – use Hotmail, Yahoo or the like; all web-based. And those who participate in newsgroups again do it through the web browser. Yes, again, I confess, I still use Forte Free Agent.

I chat with net-friends and acquaintances via non-web software (IRC and ICQ); but more and more, I find they pop in a chat-client on their own website, or use a third-party web-based chat-server.

And, of course, the web and the company website are still the basis for much e-commerce.

If anything, internet applications are converging on to the web.

To my eyes, the elements of Colony’s X-internet are here already; but the web is host to most of them, and it’s not going to go away in a hurry.

Bell is a Wellington-based journalist for Computerworld. Send email to Stephen Bell.

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