The tech world is all a-twitter (literally!) about an article in this month's Wired Magazine which announces "The Web Is Dead. Long Live the Internet". The article recites a litany of problems that are choking the web: the rise of apps that replace use of a web browser, the growth of uber-aggregation sites like Facebook that are closed platforms, the destruction of traditional advertising and replacement by Google - the semi-benevolent search monster and even the move away from HTML and use of port 80-based apps.
In short, Wired has published a jeremiad for the end of the freewheeling open web, being rapidly supplanted by voracious wannabe monopolists who seek to dominate the networked world and reduce all of us to nothing more than predestined consumers of "content" served up by monolithic megabrands. You have to look carefully, but, after all mournful moping about the terrible things happening on the web, Wired concludes that the Internet is young and still developing, so new things are right down the pike.
I yield to no-one in my admiration for (or, indeed, enjoyment of) Wired. I always find it stimulating and interesting. Nevertheless, one must admit that in its straining for profundity it often overreaches for effect and overstates for conclusion (indeed, the magazine itself admits this when it notes that it predicted the death of the browser over a decade ago). For example, Wired reached a laughably wrong conclusion two years ago when it declared "The End of Theory: The Data Deluge Makes the Scientific Method Obsolete".
As regards the message of the article, I draw a diametrically opposed conclusion than does Wired. It spends perhaps 90% of the piece bewailing the rise of bad forces, and tosses in 10% at the end in a kind of "but it's still early innings for the Internet, so some good things might happen." I look at the same phenomenon and see the huge problems it poses as perhaps 10% of the reality of the Internet, and certainly nothing to be worried about - in fact, unlikely to remain as problems into the near future.
For example, take the move away from web standards like HTML and port 80. Why anyone should be concerned about what port is used for communication across the Internet is beyond me, but in fact port 80 is increasing in importance. In my experience, entire tranches of applications that would be better served with their own ports and protocols ride on port 80 because its the only one that can reliably be expected to be open on company firewalls. We might shed a tear for poor old port 80, given how it's overworked and overloaded all in aid of letting applications do things that were never envisioned for it when the original HTML protocol was designed - but we shouldn't conclude it's obsolete and abandoned.
Or the rise of the monoliths. What's surprising is how fragile these unassailable entities actually turn out to be in the world of the Internet. Yahoo! owned the portal space, until it was outfoxed by Google. MySpace was everyone's darling until Facebook came along. Let's not even talk about the fate of the little-lamented AOL.
What's surprising isn't that network effects lead to dominant players; what's surprising is how quickly the user mob moves on to something new, leaving the formerly dominant player looking like last year's fashions. A more interesting observation would be how the nature of the Internet renders these monopolies so brittle. I fully expect that Facebook will be superseded by something else because, in the world of the Internet, having to park one's social relationships at one particular website is inconvenient and limited.
I actually think Wired, in its doleful observations about Facebook and YouTube, misses the much larger story, which is the penetration of the Internet into every element of everyday life and the changing nature of how we work based on the shift to digital interaction (which I wrote about on the HyperStratus blog, here). That is the big story. And mostly, we miss it or fail to understand its implications.
To wit: Google's CEO, Eric Schmidt, noted recently that today the world is creating - every two days (!) - as much information as it did from the beginning of civilization up to 2003. He attributes it to user-generated content - videos and so on.
However, he misses another information generating mechanism - devices. People note that mobile phones are now becoming full-fledged computers, capable of sending and receiving data. One often hears the statistic that, while today there are one billion computers in the world, there are (or soon will be) five billion mobile phones. On this basis, one analyst firm forecast that there will be 20 billion computing devices on the Internet by the year 2020. Impressive, eh?
Except that Cisco's CTO forecasts that there will be one trillion devices attached to the Internet by 2013 - 50 times the number predicted by that analyst firm and seven years sooner than the timeframe of the firm's prediction. Fifty times! Please note that I'm not trying to criticise the firm, more observe that nearly everyone underestimates the growth trajectory of the Internet.
Boiled down, the message here is that the Internet is becoming - actually, is - the underlying transportation system for how our economy and society operates. And the transition and growth is moving much faster than anyone really recognises. And I think this will accelerate the move to the cloud, which makes it imperative that people in IT recognise the growth and make plans along these lines:
Recognize you probably will need an external storage provider. For all but the largest enterprises, trying to keep up with the explosion of data will be impossible, both technically and financially. With an accelerating curve of data creation, today's problems are going to get much, much worse. Find an outside provider that you can partner with to create an integrated data strategy.
Figure out your bandwidth plan. You'll need more. A lot more. In addition to raw bandwidth, you'll probably need to examine the use of WAN acceleration and Application Delivery Controller devices to optimise the traffic.
Think about your investment needs if you experience one or two orders of magnitude growth over the next five years. Investment patterns and cost structures that are sustainable at one investment level may not be when ten or one hundred times as much capacity is needed.
Think about automation - hard. Most IT organisations operate in semi-automated (or even manual) fashion today. The deluge of apps and data discredits that approach.
Wired certainly has stirred up a hornet's nest with its provocative article. And, as far as it goes, it's got some good insights. Rather surprisingly, however, it falls short of understanding the true implications of the phenomena it's writing about: the explosion of apps and consumer services is awesome, indeed, but that conflagration pales in comparison to the firestorm going on around it.