“And with iOS 9 and content blockers, what you’re seeing is Apple’s attempt to fully drive the knife into Google’s revenue platform. iOS 9 includes a refined search that auto-suggests content and that can search inside apps, pulling content away from Google and users away from the web, it allows users to block ads, and it offers publishers salvation in the form of Apple News, inside of which Apple will happily display (unblockable!) ads, and even sell them on publishers’ behalf for just a 30 percent cut.
Oh, and if you’re not happy with Apple News, you can always turn to Facebook’s Instant Articles, which will also track the shit out of you and serve unblockable ads inside of the Facebook app, but from Apple’s perspective it’s a win as long as the money’s not going to Google.”
As I get older, I keep reminding myself that, after all, you can’t go home again. When I got to college, I was exposed to Plato in the Greek and remember reading πάντα χωρεῖ καὶ οὐδὲν μένει” καὶ “δὶς ἐς τὸν αὐτὸν ποταμὸν οὐκ ἂν ἐμβαίης for the first time. My Greek isn’t what it used to be, but the translation is:
“Everything changes and nothing remains still and you cannot step twice into the same stream.”
When I think about the evolution of the web from when I started using it (1994) through all of my experience with Mosaic and Netscape and CompuServe and Prodigy and AOL to the glory days of a web without a center (post AOL crash), I look back with fondness. The web has been a constant source of challenge, fulfillment, joy, sadness, and especially income for me over these last twenty years.
In my mind’s eye, the “glory days” of the web were sometime around 2004 or so with the advent of Firefox as a capable replacement for Internet Explorer and just shortly before Facebook at the digital world. Things were exciting. GMail was new and in high demand. We all wondered what other wizard toys Google would unveil to us in their wonky way of doing such things. Web design was flush with new energy having been set free of IE, and web protocols were blooming (well, before the dark times of Flash). It felt as if the world would be transformed by this open information system. There were ads, for sure, but the ads were there to pay for the content and the experience (even the “punch the monkey” ads). We used MySpace, but no one spent all day there. It was a tool, not a roach motel. Then came Twitter in 2006 and we web nerds just knew it was the information backbone protocol we had been hoping for. Surely, Twitter would be handed over to the open source community. They had a very open API, after all.
Then came Facebook. But it wasn’t so bad at first. It was a prettier MySpace, that’s all.
Ze Frank had his shows and we all were excited about web2.0 and the promises of what new web tech like AJAX would mean for interfaces and capabilities. I was using Writely in 2004 and loved the idea of being able to use a fairly capable word processor in a browser. Then, Google bought Writely and it became Google Docs.
That’s ok, we still had our RSS feeds and the Mac fan-people had Net News Wire. FeedDemon wasn’t so bad on the desktop and we always had Bloglines and Feedgator on the web. RSS was going to transform the way we consumed content. I just knew it.
Then came Google Reader.
I’m being too nostalgic. The web was never that rosey and free and vibrant and promising as I remember. After all, I was in the web marketing business from 2003 onward. In reality, it didn’t change all that much throughout the web2.0 boom from 2006-2008 or the social media boom from 2009-2013.
However, the web marketing business is changing rapidly now in the Age of the Platform (or App). I would call it The Mobile Age, but “mobiles” is becoming a silly name for the pocket devices we carry with us at all times and perform more and more of our daily business and life through. They’re not “mobile phones” now. They are our computers.
The Age of the Platform was ushered in quickly by Steve Jobs and Apple. Pushing cell tower and mobile device technology with ever increasingly progressive iPhones and then iPads caused a fundamental shift in how we do computing (and marketing). I sometimes wonder if Jobs knew that he was going to go directly after the jugular of Google’s revenue business when he was on stage doing the first iPhone demo? Remember, the first iPhone did not have an app store and only included the native apps. Jobs was insistent that developers could use the Safari Mobile Browser to give users access to “app environments” through HTML 5. That didn’t last long.
Apps have changed everything on the web. They’ll continue to redefine conventions we’ve long held to be self-evident about everything from marketing to banking to security to communication. With its clever play to encourage ad blocking on Mobile Safari (still the only browser environment allowed on their omnipresent iDevices) and ultimately push users into their new News app (this blog is included in their collection… yay?), Apple is moving Safari off the main page and into one of the folders where you put the Compass, Tips, and Game Center apps (at least I do). Apple is breaking up with the web.
There’s no functionality for a browser or webkit on the new Apple TV. Can you imagine the possibilities? However, it’s not needed. We have apps.
Is this a bad thing? I don’t think we can segregate movements like this into “good” or “bad” categories. Tech is agnostic morally, and we decide to do with it what we will. For those of us who reminisce on the ideals of an open and federated web where the market decides what ad formats or sites get exposure… well, we can have our idealism and try to keep blogging (though without ads).
Twitter … Facebook … Google, Apple, or Microsoft ecosystems … I look at all of these things as negatives (personally). Lock in is never good. Reach, engagement, user bases … all those metrics I deal with daily in my job working in web marketing are important variables to consider. However, we are too eager to throw ourselves into a binary decision of being an Apple fanboy or Android fangirl without pondering what we’re exchanging in this transaction.
When I think about how the web has evolved and how it might evolve further in the future, I think of Atticus Finch teaching Scout how to read.
“What was even the point of websites, certain people will find themselves wondering. Were they just weird slow apps with nobody in them?? Why? A bunch of publications will go out of business and a bunch of others will survive the transition and a few will become app content GIANTS with news teams filing to Facebook and their very own Vine stars and thriving Snapchat channels and a Viber bureau and embedded Yakkers and hundreds of people uploading videos in every direction and brands and brands and brands and brands and brands, the end. Welcome to 201…..7?”
I think of how Scout comes home after the first day of First Grade and is completely disillusioned. Her teacher was surprised at Scout’s reading ability and told Scout that her father mustn’t read to her anymore because he “didn’t know how to teach.” Atticus, being the archetype and lawyer that he is, calms Scout and makes a deal with her (and keeps reading to her).
We rely so much on our own perceptions of the past experiences we have to make assumptions about the future. We project based on (presumed) lived out reality. Our brains deceive us, though. When we come home, sometimes things have changed and our memories don’t hold up to the exposure to daylight. We need Atticus to tell us that it’s going to be ok, and we do know how to read properly, and he will continue reading to us at bedtime.
In the marketing business, I walk a fine line between intuition and metrics on an hourly basis. My clients trust me, but they have their own perceptions of taste, design, and ethics that I must navigate and counsel as well. My background in religion and teaching suits me well, but I’m constantly aware of the notion of Πάντα ρει (“everything flows”) that Plato channeled through Heraclitus. Everything flows. Perceptions, marketing techniques, web technologies, app platforms.
Rather than believing the teacher that tells me that I don’t know how to read properly because my father is not a real teacher, I should realize the utterly unfathomable trajectory that issues such as ad blockers, advertising, and definitions of the web present for humanity. Since the advent of hyperlinks in the early 90’s, we’ve seen the development of a technology that has changed or shifted how we do most everything from reading to producing to consuming to being treated for our over-consumption.
The web’s not dead.
Now back to my marketing spreadsheets.