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In the media world, this has taken the form of a shift from ad-supported free content to freemium — free samples as marketing for paid services — with an emphasis on the “premium” part. On the Web, average CPMs (the price of ads per thousand impressions) in key content categories such as news are falling, not rising, because user-generated pages are flooding Facebook and other sites. The assumption had been that once the market matured, big companies would be able to reverse the hollowing-out trend of analog dollars turning into digital pennies. Sadly that hasn’t been the case for most on the Web, and by the looks of it there’s no light at the end of that tunnel. Thus the shift to the app model on rich media platforms like the iPad, where limited free content drives subscription revenue (check out Wired’s cool new iPad app!).

The Web won’t take the sequestering of its commercial space easily. The defenders of the unfettered Web have their hopes set on HTML5 — the latest version of Web-building code that offers applike flexibility — as an open way to satisfy the desire for quality of service. If a standard Web browser can act like an app, offering the sort of clean interface and seamless interactivity that iPad users want, perhaps users will resist the trend to the paid, closed, and proprietary. But the business forces lining up behind closed platforms are big and getting bigger. This is seen by many as a battle for the soul of the digital frontier.

Zittrain argues that the demise of the all-encompassing, wide-open Web is a dangerous thing, a loss of open standards and services that are “generative” — that allow people to find new uses for them. “The prospect of tethered appliances and software as service,” he warns, “permits major regulatory intrusions to be implemented as minor technical adjustments to code or requests to service providers.”

But what is actually emerging is not quite the bleak future of the Internet that Zittrain envisioned. It is only the future of the commercial content side of the digital economy. Ecommerce continues to thrive on the Web, and no company is going to shut its Web site as an information resource. More important, the great virtue of today’s Web is that so much of it is noncommercial. The wide-open Web of peer production, the so-called generative Web where everyone is free to create what they want, continues to thrive, driven by the nonmonetary incentives of expression, attention, reputation, and the like. But the notion of the Web as the ultimate marketplace for digital delivery is now in doubt.

The Internet is the real revolution, as important as electricity; what we do with it is still evolving. As it moved from your desktop to your pocket, the nature of the Net changed. The delirious chaos of the open Web was an adolescent phase subsidized by industrial giants groping their way in a new world. Now they’re doing what industrialists do best — finding choke points. And by the looks of it, we’re loving it.

Editor in chief Chris Anderson (canderson@wired.com) wrote about the new industrial revolution in issue 18.02.

Jobs perfectly fills that void. Other technologists have steered clear of actual media businesses, seeing themselves as renters of systems and third-party facilitators, often deeply wary of any involvement with content. (See, for instance, Google CEO Eric Schmidt’s insistence that his company is not in the content business.) Jobs, on the other hand, built two of the most successful media businesses of the past generation: iTunes, a content distributor, and Pixar, a movie studio. Then, in 2006, with the sale of Pixar to Disney, Jobs becomes the biggest individual shareholder in one of the world’s biggest traditional media conglomerates — indeed much of Jobs’ personal wealth lies in his traditional media holdings.

In fact, Jobs had, through iTunes, aligned himself with traditional media in a way that Google has always resisted. In Google’s open and distributed model, almost anybody can advertise on nearly any site and Google gets a cut — its interests are with the mob. Apple, on the other hand, gets a cut any time anybody buys a movie or song — its interests are aligned with the traditional content providers. (This is, of course, a complicated alignment, because in each deal, Apple has quickly come to dominate the relationship.)

So it’s not shocking that Jobs’ iPad-enabled vision of media’s future looks more like media’s past. In this scenario, Jobs is a mogul straight out of the studio system. While Google may have controlled traffic and sales, Apple controls the content itself. Indeed, it retains absolute approval rights over all third-party applications. Apple controls the look and feel and experience. And, what’s more, it controls both the content-delivery system (iTunes) and the devices (iPods, iPhones, and iPads) through which that content is consumed.

Since the dawn of the commercial Web, technology has eclipsed content. The new business model is to try to let the content — the product, as it were — eclipse the technology. Jobs and Zuckerberg are trying to do this like old-media moguls, fine-tuning all aspects of their product, providing a more designed, directed, and polished experience. The rising breed of exciting Internet services — like Spotify, the hotly anticipated streaming music service; and Netflix, which lets users stream movies directly to their computer screens, Blu-ray players, or Xbox 360s — also pull us back from the Web. We are returning to a world that already exists — one in which we chase the transformative effects of music and film instead of our brief (relatively speaking) flirtation with the transformative effects of the Web.

After a long trip, we may be coming home.

Michael Wolff (michael@burnrate.com) is a new contributing editor for Wired. He is also a columnist for Vanity Fair and the founder of Newser, a news-aggregation site.



An earlier version of the chart at the beginning of this article incorrectly listed the time span from 1995 to 2005. The correct time span is 1990 to 2010. The correct version appears in the print magazine.

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  • Posted by: lpress | 08/19/10 | 4:17 am |
    What is the definition of a Web application? One watches a YouTube video by visiting their Web site using a Web browser. Do you consider that non-Web because it uses Flash?

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  • Posted by: nonapooi | 08/19/10 | 4:56 am |
    Nope. The web is far far away from being dead. And contrary to the post in which it says that Apple and Google are killing it. In reality, they are building it. This is not about that google-neutrality deception nor, about how iDevices are striking a problem to the web. But rather, to the subjective opinion of this post. Much like that much ado we’ve heard from ‘prince’ a couple of months ago.A normal person would automatically believe that Google and Verizon are planning to make their own internet: A paid one (for them) and a free one (the one that we’re using today) …

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  • Posted by: MatsSvensson | 08/19/10 | 5:14 am |
    So according to this writer, the more people use the WEB-site youtube.com the less used the WEB will be?Excuse me, but this guy appears to be retarded.

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  • Posted by: Smurfdaddy | 08/19/10 | 9:56 am |
    As long as people like THIS author are able to publish drivel like this, the web is definatley NOT dead. Evidently “Yellow Journalism” isn’t dead either

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  • Posted by: tycahill | 08/19/10 | 10:42 am |
    That pretty chart at the top of the article sure is deceptive. It’s showing proportions, but it doesn’t look that way. How do we know that web use is on the decline? All we know is that video has a higher proportion than web, but web USE may actually be growing. How about some hard numbers for us to look at instead of fancy chart that blurs meaning?

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  • Posted by: recoveringtechie | 08/19/10 | 10:47 am |
    The graph is very misleading, it tries to correlate usage with importance which is just plain wrong. If importance were factored then DNS would have the largest slice of all because none of the other stuff would work without it. Of course video and p2p are larger, that content takes more bandwidth. Duh. While some of the other points are valid, the use of this sort of illustration turns me off from the overall message.

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  • Posted by: wanderlost | 08/19/10 | 10:59 am |
    The look and usability of the Web is evolving, dead it is notwhat kgbsc said earlier on:2) A facebook or twitter app is still connecting to a web server somewhere. It’s still using the web.3) Using bits transferred as a measure of how the internet is being used is not accurate, as “apps” like video (which are accessed through web browsers) consume far more badnwidth than html, yet for each video watched, it is possible that 100 web pages are accessed. Last time I checked, Youtube is a website that uses static web servers (web 1.0 technology) to present all those videos that consume all that bandwidth.

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  • Posted by: angelux | 08/19/10 | 1:37 pm |
    I think you are right, but in a very centralized way, this is just for certain places. Here in México is just not true. It is true that it went down but it is not dying. There are still a lot of sites that capture all the audiences and the only thing happening here is that the web is becoming just for certain amount of people; like everything it had a boom in the year 2000 because it was the “new” toy, but the usability didn’t ended. And just so you know, not every person in the world has a smartphone, ipad or gadgets like that, would like to have one, but don’t. I’m just typing this so everybody knows that there are more people in the internet that aren’t familiar with this kind of life you are suggesting. In the end you have a point, just not as big as you made me think it is.

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  • Posted by: awnpromo | 08/19/10 | 3:37 pm |
    I think the author is making a rather clear distintion between the web and the internet. People are turning more to mobile devices and apps to search, but the more traditional methods of typing in a url or doing a search still apply.

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  • Posted by: adoo | 08/19/10 | 4:24 pm |
    It’s all evolution. Dial-up used to be the greatest thing since slice bread. Now it rarely used or promoted. These fads such as Blackberry, G3 and G4 will come and go but it all comes down to one thing. An exchange of information. The tremendous progress this technology has achieved can be difficult to keep up with. Prince stated a few weeks ago that the internet is over. Myself, I don’t even own a cell phone. I’ll stick with a desk-top for now.

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  • Posted by: o1iver | 08/19/10 | 5:08 pm |
    @wanderlost: the author distinguishes between the web and the net. What he means is that the twitter app is using the net (to communicate with the server). but the user is not actually using the web (in the traditional sense).@lpress: I think many people use applications to use YouTube these days (ex: YouTube for iPhone) and in that sense are not using the web, but the net (^^). Anyway it doesn’t matter. Watching YouTube is not using the web in the sense that you are surfing from site to site. Is Facebook a website or an application. I am not sure the distinction is clear these days…Yes it uses HTML, but it feels more like an application than a traditional website.I must say that I agree with the author in this case. I am a power user, yet still find myself accessing the same few sites 90% of the time. Maybe Facebook, Gmail and YouTube are websites (in port 80 sense), but to me they are no longer websites but rather application.

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  • Posted by: cameleo_salamander | 08/19/10 | 5:33 pm |
    Can’t say anything really now, what I wanted to express have already been said by others. I don’t agree with the author.

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  • Posted by: saritascarlett | 08/19/10 | 6:51 pm |
    I do have a problem with the basic argument of this theory, you cannot compare the traffic generated by videos with that produced by pages, which is by far insignificant. This comparison cannot be made by using traffic statistics which deep down use “bytes” as measure. I am not taking sides here, but please use something relevant.

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  • Posted by: jav1231 | 08/19/10 | 11:12 pm |
    That should ensure people pontificate for awhile.

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  • Posted by: aaronfield | 08/20/10 | 1:23 am |
    Well…It is not dead and I don’t think it will going to dead anytime. I don’t know the future of it.But it’s become a part of our life.Bankruptcy

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  • Posted by: silnan | 08/20/10 | 8:42 am |
    A counter example to this debate
    The web is dead?

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  • Posted by: mesoameric | 08/20/10 | 6:13 pm |
    We are going to have to fight to retain open standards and peer-to-peer performance without penalization (i.e. network neutrality), given the hierarchy/vertical-monopoly-building forces at work. Ironically, it was these very open standards and peer/edge dominated architecture that allowed the now-monopolies to forge their new business models in the first place. Now they will want to make deals with pipe-providers to prioritize their traffic. We need to keep the ability toride a horse across the open range and camp there, even as the
    climate-controlled pneumatic pod-train tubes start to dominate the net landscape.

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  • Posted by: cduwel | 08/22/10 | 6:26 am |
    I would have liked to read the article about “The Web is Dead” but due to the fancy formatting I was unable to make a copy in Word and print it out. Let me know when it’s available in a more reader friendly format.
    Thanks

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  • Posted by: Angryrider | 08/22/10 | 8:20 am |
    I say the web is dead because it represents both a treasure trove and maybe a garbage dump of information. It is something that we can use to learn more about the world we live in. With all these apps and programs designed to mostly entertain us and connect us through trivial things, the web is being pushed down into soft peat.

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  • Posted by: remko232 | 08/22/10 | 12:06 pm |
    Perhaps it will take some time before I fully realize the importance of this article but for now understanding that “the notion of the Web as the ultimate marketplace for digital delivery is now in doubt.” is an open door as this is an continuous daily life situation. Things change due to different views or insight. That’s normal. And so it is equally normal with the internet. Perhaps now we see that for specific information people are willing to pay (as in apps) and the web will be used for other things like reading very long articles in two rows like the above and/or companies will use it as one way of servicing their customers (helpdesk, selling stuff, beholding reputation and gain profit from that and so many other things. New thoughts, new principles. Some could call it evolution. Again, perhaps the article will give a backwards insight in some time. For now I wish everyone the best of luck and use whatever suits you. The business people will get to you anyway. And that’s OK.

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  • Posted by: josephrot | 08/22/10 | 2:50 pm |
    Why all this fuss ?The Web is the vehicle or backbone transport system, and the apps are amongst the varying digital items that are transported. In the past, current and future, it has, does and will “do” or be even more, which is exactly what’s expected.So what of it ?

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  • Posted by: wroadd | 08/23/10 | 5:00 am |
    What is the measurement unit of y-axis on the first diagram? Numbers of started download per year, data size, percentage of used bandwidth?

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  • Posted by: turnip | 08/23/10 | 11:19 am |
    Facebook is not an app. It’s a web site. There is an (ch)iphone app. 45m (ch)iphones != 500m facebook users! There is an (ch)ipad app. 5m (ch)ipads != 500m facebook users! etc. etc. Might have been an interesting article if not so overstated.

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  • Posted by: Blackjack | 08/23/10 | 11:58 am |
    Just got my Wired mag in the mail yesterday 8/22. This was the cover article and the cover graphic and it was posted on the web about a week before my mag came. It used to be that paying subscribers would get additional articles. Then it went to the point that we would at least get the articles first. Now we get the articles after everyone else gets them for free. So, now what am i paying for? It doesn’t seem like the Web is dead, it seems like my subscription to WIRED will soon be dead.

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  • Posted by: jammele | 08/23/10 | 2:55 pm |
    I totally agree with Chris Anderson. I wrote on the same subject on my blog in April immediately after I got my iPad. The post “iPad is the Google Killer” has many of the same themes. Once you get over your fear of the Web being on of many ways we’ll access the internet, you’ll see the truth. http://melesmusings.com/2010/04/06/ipad-is-the-google-killer/

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  • Posted by: rgrossi | 08/23/10 | 5:05 pm |
    Looking at traffic doesn’t show the whole picture though. A 15 minute video I just watched could use 100mb of data, but the 15 minutes I spent reading this HTML article was probably only 1k of data. But looking at a chart of where the traffic is going it would seem that people spend much more time watching videos than reading some text which takes up much less space.

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  • Posted by: sabatizer | 08/24/10 | 11:23 am |
    Paging Edward Tufte…
    I would love to see a revised chart that shows the growth of total volume of internet traffic, broken down by percentage. I suspect web use is growing, just not in proportion to other internet uses.
    Even more, I’d like to see a chart that shows volume based on task. For example visiting twenty web pages might create as much traffic as watching one video. Is it fair to imply a video is more important than a webpage simply because the video moves more bits?

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  • Posted by: hansoloz | 08/24/10 | 2:03 pm |
    did the cell phone “die” when the iphone hit the market? the title of the article really should be “rebirth of the web”…

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  • Posted by: incogito | 08/24/10 | 2:24 pm |
    “Radio has no future.” – Lord Kelvin, 1897.

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  • Posted by: deannalawrence | 08/24/10 | 3:28 pm |
    Thank you Wired…Simply Thank you!

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  • Posted by: RogerWilson | 08/24/10 | 5:13 pm |
    The Web Ain’t Dead http://bit.ly/aintdead but we should prepare for another long tale!

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  • Posted by: john_titor | 08/24/10 | 10:29 pm |
    I think I’m going to start using the word “web” exclusively when referring to the aethersphere, just to be a dick.

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  • Posted by: tinacart | 08/26/10 | 8:01 pm |
    Okay, Wired.com…if you’re so convinced the Web is dead, then put your money where your mouth is: shut down your website permanently. I triple-dog-dare ya.

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  • Posted by: stiemark | 08/27/10 | 1:19 am |
    Why does Chris Anderson keep using phrases like “open web” vs “closed platform” and “free” vs “paid services” to try and differentiate the web and apps? Whether I use the built in Mail app or Google Mobile on my iPhone or use gmail.com in a browser, I’m still hitting the same closed system that is Gmail. The same exact server farm will deliver a video from YouTube whether it’s being requested by a YouTube app or a Flash widget in my browser. Ditto for Facebook statuses. Ditto for eBay auctions. Ditto for FarmVille crops. Ditto for Twitter tweets. They’re all free however I access them. If anything, i would argue that these apps have given us freedom. I can now sit in front of my computer and bid on an eBay auction, walk away and continue to monitor it from my phone whether I’m on the couch or the beach. I’m not shackled to my desk any more. Now THAT’S open.

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  • Posted by: michaeldaehn | 08/27/10 | 3:04 pm |
    “Wired declares the Web is dead – people are using applications instead.”
    @Poet_Tweets on Twitter

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  • Posted by: BrianSmith | 08/27/10 | 5:58 pm |
    If you play this podcast backwards it sounds like Chris is saying “Paul is Dead”….

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  • Posted by: 1sai | 08/27/10 | 11:09 pm |
    Seems like John Chambers had his hands on that chart, showing video traffic! Besides that, I personally think the article is true from a blind users point of view. The web will always be there – rather pushed into background as a distributed vault.

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  • Posted by: fbagirov | 08/28/10 | 4:03 pm |
    As the front end role of the mobile becomes bigger than PC, the role of mobile apps does grow. However, there are few factors:
    1) adoption – according to the various polls, users and companies prefer mobile sites to mobile applications, at least for now.
    2) costs – it is cheaper to build a mobile website that is browsable by iPhone, Android and other platforms, rather than application for each of them, especially the non-open ones like iPhoneOS. Companies already made huge investments into their websites, and some would not even exist (online businesses) if there wouldn’t be a web.
    3) The web is a layer that makes easier to navigate the internet, and will not go away .Of course, user adoption will decide how fast, if at all, the web will go away.

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  • Posted by: njsmyth | 08/28/10 | 8:46 pm |
    I disagree with many of those commenting in that I think this is an important trend and that we will lose opportunities for shared/open spaces as Internet use becomes more and more fragmented. Thanks to the authors in writing an article that has generated a lot of thought (and responses!). I’ve written more about my reactions here: If The Web is Really Dead, What Have We Lost?: http://njsmyth.wordpress.com/2010/08/23/if-the-web-is-really-dead-what-have-we%C2%A0lost/

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