Friday, April 03, 2015

Is the app-only economy going to kill the internet ?

Internet is at risk of becoming low level plumbing of the snazzy house of proprietary app world. With the advent of app-only companies and products, internet, as we knew it, is slowly taking the backseat. App world is full in control of their masters and it is a very snobby world. Biggest irony of the sharing economy is that apps don't like to share, linked to, looked inside. This world does not have a concept of hyperlinking, a basic premise of the internet. It is surely very un-internet like. It all seems designed to lock in the users to handful of apps and make them so myopic that they don't even realize that there are options. 

Let me take a step back. Internet, in my view, is the ultimate manifestation of the hippy culture. Everything was free: 

  1. Access to internet is free after you have paid your ISP. Almost everything that has been digitized is available on the internet for free. You could change ISPs and everything still worked.
  2. There was hardly any government control over the internet. They wished. However, it is designed in such a beautiful way that there are very few central systems. This makes the internet very tough to control (unless of course you are China). 
  3. The real estate on the internet was also very cheap. You could buy a domain name in $10, a cheap server in $5 and go online with your site. 
  4. There was no limit on number of sites you could visit. These sites could not steal your data. They could store some of their own data at your end but not steal much. Once you close the site, they cannot send you any popups or notifications. They cannot run in background and monitor your activity. Track your location, speed, acceleration etc.
  5. Better still, you could write blog posts which millions could read and cost you zilch. There were these things called RSS feed, which made it even unnecessary to go to sites to read content on them. You could just subscribe to RSS feeds.
  6. In fact, you could link to other people's property and it was encouraged. People who visited your site, could easily hop to any other site you linked to. You did not have to pay anything for it.
  7. HTML was written in a way that made even sloppy code work. HTML was so dead simple that anybody could make a site in it. No lock-in. Almost all code written for one browser worked in all browsers. There were tonnes of browsers.  This sloppy code could render on almost any device and browser. Again no lock-in. You could look into the html, css and javascript code of any site. It was free for all. Internet was the ultimate open source.
May be internet was too open to make money. So 'they' invented the app world. App economy is a dream for big companies. Huge user base, free & rich media push notifications, ability to steal the ultimate of user social graph (call logs, sms history) and on-ground sensors to enable steal very personal data of users. Lets have a look at this world as to how it compares to the internet.
  1. Internet fast speed lanes, internet.org, anti net neutrality deals. Enough said.
  2. Apps do share the internet. However are themselves in control of one company which makes it, one company which distributes it.
  3. Apps have already made it impossible for a part time hobby dev to produce and maintain 3-4 different apps. Hardly anybody I know, knows obj-c and java both very well.
  4. Apps have made it difficult to have more than 20-30 of them on your phone. More than that and your phone would be left with no space. Once these select 20 are there, you are locked into them. They steal your data and periodically push you notifications! A we just love them.
  5. We first managed to kill RSS. I remember there was a huge campaign one time which demeaned RSS. Google then killed reader for no apparent reason. Is the internet world a puppet show ?
  6. Apps cannot link to other apps. You cannot link to particular page of particular app in a generic way unless the other app wants it and allows it. There exists no generic way to do it. The standard way could be that you talk to the other app dev, sign a contract with them and possibly even pay them. Linking is dead.
  7. Apps are not free. They are locked in to a platform. If you want to port your code, you would need to rewrite the whole code base. (hybrid apps don't seem like they are happening)

I think we are witnessing end of internet as we knew it. Companies are suddenly trying to kill browsers and generic internet. They are trying to invent a proprietary walled garden internet.

5 comments:

Abhijit Rao said...

Good points. But I think I am a little optimistic about the Internet. This is a passing phase. right now apps are the easiest way for people to get on the smart phone bandwagon. But let a few years pass ... how much data which went into these apps will get to be preserved content ? The internet has allowed us to generate content in enormous amounts and has allowed all of us access to it. This will win eventually.

Fazal said...

Very well written! Indeed your concern is right. If we talk about vast majority of the people, they're simply ignorant of good ol internet world. More often then not these guys will lock in to those 20 odd apps. More importantly, they don't even realize the importance of 'privacy' and that 'being traced' or silently taking 'backup' of users data is NOT COOL.

Gazal said...

Apps definitely are killing the openness nature of internet and doesn't appear to be sustainable all on its own. It also wonders me how as a developer it becomes challenging to keep up with not just ever evolving technology but also unforeseeable shifts in ecosystems.

Tejas Jadhav said...

A good read definitely. But, it seems the user base itself has given more preference to apps than the actual websites. It's convenient. App-based services are quicker. Doing the same on browser is relatively slow. But it was always like this. Industry did what the users wanted.

Piyush said...

Tejas I do agree that apps definitely give users better experience once installed. No two ways about it. However, internet is/was all about the long tail/choice...apis, multiple browsers, greasemonkey and what not. All of that meant choice. There was hardly any platform based monopoly that you could create. I fear that choice is being killed by companies going app only.