In an earlier post I noted that I only spend time at a few websites out of the billions that exist out there. I used this fact as a launching point to discuss my Stumble On habits, but lately, I’ve thought a little more about this and come to a very different conclusion, the web page is going to become obsolete. Now I know this sounds like one of those eye catching exaggerhations meant to keep readers interested, and to some extent it is, but I think that its mostly true.
Take a look at my own personnel browsing habits, I spend most of my time in of three places. Google Mail, Google Reader, and Facebook. Most of the time I visit all these places without even leaving my iGoogle home portal, meaning that in reality I spend about 80% of my time in one place. What makes all of these places similar, is that they aren’t websites in the traditional sense, their data aggregators that pull information from their own databases or other places on the web.
A look at the top 500 trafficked internet sites shows that the rest of the US browses similarly. All of the top 10 sites are either search engines, home portals, or shopping sites, with Wikipedia being the one exception.
Now this is a diverse set, so some of you may be wondering what I am finding so common in them, so let me highlight my criteria. All of these sites do not generate their own content, but instead rely on users or outside sources. In short, we’re finding that on the most popular sites content generation is abstracted from content distrobution or presentation.
To some extent this is just a rehashing of ideas that others have discussed as Web 2.0 or the Social Web, but I think there’s an important point that most pundits haven’t hit on yet. Why do we still use a web page to show this stuff? Now this isn’t just a question of why we use a web browser to access certain complex web applications that might be better off on the desktop. Projects like Mozilla Prism are already looking to take applications out of a browser and stick them on your desktop, for whatever good that might do. What I’m getting at is why do we act as if the best way to process wildly diverse types of content, from news aritcles, videos, music, pictures, comics, is through the metaphor of the hyperlinked world wide web?
To understand what I mean lets take a look at YouTube. On the backend YouTube is a just a giant heap of videos, a heap that users can add to with a few clicks of a button. So then how does YouTube treat these videos on the front end? Well users have to find videos by searching with text. They then have to click a hyperlink to open the page for a video. From there they have to click another button to make it full screen. If they decide they don’t want this video after all they have to go up to the top of the page and hit the back button, or they had to be smart enough to have opened their video in a new tab or window. Nowhere is there away to toggle between multiple videos at once, to pull up the equivalent of a channel guide letting you see details on similar videos. Wouldn’t it be better if you could do picture in picture, see live (though likely muted) clips of other videos, see recommended videos while your main one was playing?
Of course it would, but the problem is that YouTube is stuck in the web page metaphor. Now part of that of course is that putting up a simple clicky web page is much similar than building the sort of feature full applicaiton I’m describing. But that’s changing quickly with applications like Adobe AIR or Microsoft Silverlight.
And even a slight departure from the web metaphor makes a huge difference. Take a look at the music player Songbird. Songbird is a music player designed to hook straight into the web. Aside from embedding a browser into the player itself, the creators of Sonbird have packed it full of a huge set of interesting features. You can “subscribe” to a web page and have Songbird automatically download new music from it to your harddrive. You can search major music blog aggergators and have the results show up in a simple playlist for easy simple streaming. Web developers can even build code into their pages to complement Songbird, creating site specific playlists.
Similar applications are likely to pop up for other types of media types; news, stock information, videos, etc. Whether or not these will be desktop application, or web based ones using silverlight, AIR, or whatever other technology, I don’t know. What I do know is the web page is a concept that’s headed for obscurity, and fast.