In the current conversation about the Web vs. the Internet, the template for which is the second in a "series" of articles published by Wired Magazine over the last decade about the death of the Web ("The Web Is Dead. Long Live the Internet"), there is a subtle thread to the argument damning the Web that depicts it as a place of empty and pointless wandering. Michael Wolff, who co-authored the Wired piece with Wired Editor, Chris Anderson, writes:
"Facebook became a parallel world to the Web, an experience that was vastly different and arguably more fulfilling and compelling and that consumed the time previously spent idly drifting from site to site."
The same notion pops-up in John Gaffney's DigiRant on August 25th, "Death of The Long Tail." He writes.
"Casting around for new blogs, commerce deals and other content should be compressed. The Long tail gets shorter."
And he adds,
"If we're all gaming and yapping, why would we try to discover anything that can't be emailed or posted on Facebook? We won't."
I never "surfed" the Web, which is to say it was never my idea of fun to wander from place to place in search of a sudden discovery I could share with my friends. Not that I haven't been trapped falling down the rabbit hole many times on a linear path to nowhere. But the Web has never been an app to me, a carnival ride, or a box of chocolates with a "Cool Site of the Day" in the center. The Web has been about creativity and expression, along with destination and purpose, the second two of which have always been the things to qualify the media and advertising opportunity.
So this notion of replacing idle drifting on the Web with the more fulfilling experience of applications such as Facebook is a disconnect, unless you're a relentless new media drifter. In which case, the app world offers an assuredly better drifting experience -- and Facebook the consummate drifting environment (with Foursquare not far behind).
I have 366 friends on Facebook (a total that probably inflates the number of friends I really have). If I were a searcher (or technology editor) like Chris Anderson I might browse Facebook over breakfast. I don't. Admittedly, it may be because I don't exploit the tool in the way it could be exploited, but the musings of the 20 -- 30 people (out of 366) that account for most of the idle bits and bites of my Facebook environment are -- well -- they make me more inclined to watch the morning cable news show over breakfast.
I accept all the evidence of app intrusion in our lives that is fundamentally reshaping how we communicate with each other and consume media. I own an iPad and a Blackberry. I agree with Doug Weaver, however, who wrote in his blog, The Drift:
"The future is all about "and." We'll be navigating and building on a world that's filled with web pages and apps and social media communities and video and..... Wired (for whom I worked in 1994-95) is tossing us a red herring in saying that all the meaningful financial action will shift into applications and closed environments. It's a false choice."
It is made more false by the points that get made by Anderson and Wolff in the Wired piece, but never connected. Says Anderson:
"The wide-open Web of peer production, the so-called generative Web where everyone is free to create what they want, continues to thrive, driven by the nonmonetary incentives of expression, attention, reputation and the like."
In so saying, Anderson makes the media case for the Web: "expression, attention, reputation and the like", driven by interest and passion. Wolff chimes in elsewhere:
"...What the Web has lacked in its determination to turn itself into a full-fledged media format is anybody who knew anything about media. Likewise, on the media side there wasn't anybody who knew anything about technology. This has been a fundamental and aching disconnect: There was no sublime integration of content and systems, of experience and functionality - no clever, subtle, Machiavellian overarching design able to create that codependent relationship between audience, producer and marketer."
About the lack of people who knew anything about media in the evolution of this industry I couldn't agree more; but Chris Anderson has made the case for the integration of content and systems - freeing everyone to create what they want -- and it "continues to thrive." Wolff says, "The new business model is to try and let the content -- the product as it were - eclipse the technology."
Yes, and the model thrives.
In the end, for anyone that does understand media, it is never idle, which is why, also for anyone that understands media, social networking still makes them scratch their heads. But, Wired Magazine is a technology publication and, accordingly, its producers and readers are restless adopters in constant pursuit of the killer app. Fair enough. Off they go.
For the rest, for the media-types, "aching" for their turn at the helm in this brave new world Chris Anderson offers this elixir:
"But the Web is now 18 years old. It has reached adulthood. An entire generation has grown up in front of a browser. The exploration of a new world has turned to business as usual. We get the Web. It's part of our life. And we just want to use the services that make our life better. Our appetite for discovery slows as our familiarity with the status quo grows."
Drink this, and the Web becomes like TV and radio and other media before it: the status quo, which in media land is the killer app.
Follow Jarvis Coffin on Twitter: www.twitter.com/GJC3