Sunday, January 21, 2007

The web's next trick: to disappear?

Am in Munich at the DLD Conference and will try to do some posts from what is shaping up to be an interesting - and heavily oversubscribed - event. One of the comments in the opening future-orientated session (by Caterina Fake) alluded to the concept that I've been mulling over a while. She said we're going to see the end of the web as we know it - in short (my summary of her comment) a shift away from the traditional PC experience, and portals in particular, towards more modular web-services broken up and delivered to the user in whatever way is convenient to them, whether it's on the mobile, the TV or wherever. Conversation then moved on, but this idea of a disappearing web seems worth exploring. In a nutshell, I guess it refers to mobilization of the access layer with 'deportalization' at the services layer. This stuff is bread and butter for most Mobile2.0 advocates, and visionaries such as Rajesh Jain, but I'd interested to hear about how others have structured this, and whether these elements hang together.

This is a story about enabling innovation at the services level, rather than the display level. It would suggest that AJAX, gorgeous multi-touch UIs and the browser itself are less important than figuring out how to get semantic, federated data working on any internet accessible device. And, while it's an impressive technological feat that we have a fully featured, best in class web browser on our devices, this line of thought would make that mute. Of course we need to offer the best experience of browsing today's old 2-dimensional web pages, but this would be just 'hygiene'; context rather than core. The disappearing web is a fragmented, modular, data-centric place, in which RSS and widgets rules supreme. Btw this post from the ever-sharp software abstractions blog has more about RSS aggregation and filtering, deportalization and semantic web as top disruptive technologies for 2007.

I would like to think that we could do away with the browser alltogether and the need to navigate portals on either the mobile or PC, because it is a fairly clumsy analogy of a reference library. Please technologists, don't ask me to dive into a strange other dimension that you call the web but looks to me like just links. I want the web to wrap itself around me, a warm blanket of comforting connectivity. And like all good blankets, I want it to be seamless, easy to understand, effective at simply delivering what it promises, and no sharp, bulky edges.

Hence my frustration with people who ask me how on earth a mobile device with a small screen can possibly be an effective Internet device. Gosh darnit, if the next version of the web was any good, you wouldn't even need a screen. I don't want the distractions and infinite choices presented to me by services that abdicate their ability to serve, constantly nagging at me for my input to dumb questions that it really should have the answers to already. I want answers to problems that I either have or am about to have, delivered as pure signal, no noise. I want my phone to buzz silently when I'm in a meeting to indicate that the London flat I've been looking for comes on the market at the right price. I want it to send a painful electric shock when I'm about to eat that sticky donut that, according to my health-care provider who knows my medical and consumption history, will prove fatal with 99% probability given my current heart condition. I want a very subtle glowing icon to indicate that one of my trusted contacts is driving past my house on the way to the airport, meaning I could save a £50 taxi fare by hitching a ride. None of these involve big screens; just smart signals delivered in a multi-sensory way that makes sense to the particular context. All of these require interoperability at the data layer (the semantic stuff), but it's the business and social interoperability (getting companies to open their processes, and for consumers to trust them) that's the harder task. These require a realization that human experiences and the applications and services that serve them live in three dimensions. And the data from these three dimensions deliver vastly more opportunities for service innovation, rendering many of today's 2-dimensional portal-based web experiences outdated, if not redundant.

1 comment:

Wyndham Lewis said...

Agree some good analogies. Although the web is relatively nascent there are already some preconceived ideas that can create barriers to innovation and experimentation. People shouldn't concentrate on the strengths & weaknesses of competing technologies or the channel mechanism. Instead they should focus on people and their needs and whether there is a business or social case, in creating a new way of fulfilling those needs. As the article points out saving £50 through lift sharing is most rationale people's goal rather than accessing a social community to view real time location based vehicular data. The web isn't a panacea though one of many tools that we can apply to improve the way we lead our lives.