iMedia Connection

Will apps really kill the web?

Tom Hespos

"Really? Again?"

That was my reaction to Wired's recent proclamation that the web was dead. You see, I was around the first time they declared the web dead, and I'm not one to place blind faith in premature announcements of the demise of entire media channels. This time, though, Wired hasn't placed its faith in obsolete push technology, but in applications, which are red-hot on the digital marketing scene. Hmm... maybe there's something to this.

Thinking about this, I reflected on my own consumption of digital media and the ways it is changing, and compared my changing habits with that of other cataclysmic shifts I've experienced during my career in media. Email, graphical web browsing, streaming media, social networking -- these all changed the game in their own way. Does the app ecosystem belong on that list?

To belong on that list, I think a media movement needs to not completely replace, but significantly erode the growth of media that came before it. Check. That awe-inspiring graph from Cisco in the above-linked article clearly demonstrates that.

Thinking about my own media consumption, I looked at my habits in both the workplace and the home. And they are both becoming more app-driven.

Every morning when I arrive in the office and wait for the coffee to brew, I boot up several applications on my Mac  -- two different email applications, TweetDeck, and a web browser. This is part of my morning routine. TweetDeck is most decidedly an app, and it replaced using Twitter through its web-based interface.

When I start up the web browser, I have a number of saved tabs -- the admin interfaces for two blogs, Facebook, LinkedIn, the web interface for our time-tracking system, and a couple message boards I frequent. I also have an RSS reader plug-in that I frequently access through my browser.

As I look at this morning routine, I realize that just about everything I keep tabs on has a corresponding app that I access through other devices. That was a big "aha!" moment for me. Outside of work, I:

Wired might have prematurely declared the web dead, but if you look at the things I access every day through a web browser, there's an app for that. And I'm using those apps when I'm not in front of my desktop. So basically, a big chunk of my browser-based internet use is easily replaceable by apps.

This prompted me to think about why I use a web browser at all. A big piece of that is the more exploratory web navigating -- search, blog reading, websites that aren't on my list of usual stops. Apps tend to be used for things that I like to see regularly, and in a certain specific way.

Maybe apps won't kill the browser, but perhaps they will relegate its use to a role more reflective of its name. Browsers could end up being used just for browsing.

I'm still doubtful that apps will kill the web as we know it, but I've urged marketers and advertisers in the past to be thinking about ways to leverage the notion of sponsored utility in order to develop an app strategy. From a media-buying perspective, we might find ourselves unable to reach certain types of people on the web, and we'll need to rely on apps to help reach new consumers.

Tom Hespos is the chairman and president of Underscore Marketing and blogs at Hespos.com.

On Twitter? Follow Tom at @THespos1 or @_MarketingLLC. Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.