The Web Is A Flat Circle

Here we go again. Stop me if you’ve heard this before: “open” is dead, “closed” killed it.

Did you stop me? You should have. Because we all have heard this before.

The latest iteration is that the mobile web is dying because mobile apps have killed it. This was kicked off by Chris Dixon, and now it’s becoming a meme. Such a closed system is a problem, you see, because it will stifle innovation. Or at least, that’s how the story goes.

But again, we’ve heard this before. I can personally think of a few different times — most notably: AOL is killing the Internet, Facebook is killing the web, and most recently, a variation of the same argument above: Apple, by way of native apps, is killing the web.

The Internet has yet to die. And it won’t here either. As John Gruber points out:

I think Dixon has it all wrong. We shouldn’t think of the “web” as only what renders inside a web browser. The web is HTTP, and the open Internet. What exactly are people doing with these mobile apps? Largely, using the same services, which, on the desktop, they use in a web browser. Plus, on mobile, the difference between “apps” and “the web” is easily conflated. When I’m using Tweetbot, for example, much of my time in the app is spent reading web pages rendered in a web browser. Surely that’s true of mobile Facebook users, as well. What should that count as, “app” or “web”?
I publish a website, but tens of thousands of my most loyal readers consume it using RSS apps. What should they count as, “app” or “web”?
I say: who cares? It’s all the web.

But is innovation being stifled? You can try to make the case, but I’m not sure you can make a good one. In my view, innovation continues fairly unimpeded on the app stores. Sure, some of the roadblocks are annoying and/or troublesome. But some of those roadblocks have also yielded a new era of innovation thanks to the general consumer trust that they bring.

Anyway, you can argue both sides. The key point is that this argument is nothing new. We’ve heard it before and we’ll hear it again. I’ve argued this before four years ago. But in this case, I find it better to pull the relevant pop culture quote:

Someone once told me, ‘Time is a flat circle.’ Everything we’ve ever done or will do, we’re gonna do over and over and over again.

Rust Cohle had it right in True Detective. All of this is cyclical. Things open up, things close down. Then they open up again. Each time this happens, we learn something new, and new innovation blossoms.

This isn’t necessarily a good or bad thing, but it is necessary. “Open” exists because “closed” defines it. Both have their advantages and disadvantages.

I’ll end this post now because I feel like I’m sounding a bit too much like Rust Cohle speaking in grandiose generalities. But the key point remains: if you don’t like the downfall of the mobile web at the hands of native apps, just wait a bit. Things change. Over and over and over again.