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The Web Perception Trap

Posted by tomwiles at 12:35 AM on May 8, 2011

We seem to be moving into the age of the apps. Are apps just a passing fad, or is something more substantial afoot?

We have come to think of the Internet itself as being synonymous with the World Wide Web. However, that’s a wrong perception that may have many of us caught in a perception trap making it difficult for us to “get” what is happening.

The Internet itself is a platform on which to run applications, a fact we would do well to remember. In the early days before the Web, there were data moving applications such as Gopher, IRCP, Telnet, etc. along with many others. HTTP just happened to be one of the major protocols that in combination with other protocols gave foundation to the websites we are all now familiar with. The Web itself is not the end of the story, but just a data delivery application.

Though we don’t think of it this way, many websites themselves are really applications.

The apps that seem to be taking over our smartphones and have given rise to tablet computing are more than what they appear to be. Though today the best of these apps seem to be giving concentrated bits and pieces of the full-blown functionality of websites, I believe a larger fundamental trend is going on than we currently realize.

The apps themselves are in the process of evolving into new Internet applications and will ultimately give rise to new services that go beyond computers and browsers. One day in the future, apps may well eclipse the Web as the data delivery applications of choice. Applications follow the form of the devices on which they are executed.

Apps are just now beginning to invade televisions. We are still in the earliest stages, and things are still clunky. Moving beyond the clunky stage, imagine what form these new web-based TV apps might look like in the future. Forget about browsers, and forget about existing web services that run inside them. For example, think in terms of a networked app running just on a connected TV – what could be done with that? Would it be possible to create an app that just delivered a live IPTV network stream (or a bunch of them)? Of course it would, and it would be an advantage over having to scroll through clunky, often near-useless lists and near-worthless descriptions because that’s the way websites running on computers seem to work best.

It could be argued that connected gaming consoles are data delivery apps, delivering specialized services to the end user that go well beyond browser-based or browser-conceived functionality. The Microsoft Kinnect attached to a connected X-Box with end-users using their bodies to interact with the games and ultimately other Kinnect users is moving data back and forth that has nothing to do with the Web.

Ultimately we must begin to think about the Internet as a global data retrieval/delivery system that is independent of computers and browsers. Computers and browsers are just one application of potentially thousands, hundreds of thousands or even millions that have yet to be thought of. Therefore, apps must conform to the devices, machines, or appliances they are running on. App designers would do well to forget about computers and browsers and begin thinking outside the computer/browser Web perception trap.

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