Today everyone’s talking about a piece in Wired Magazine entitled, “The Web Is Dead.” Naturally, they posted the story on their website, and probably in a few other dead media formats as well, like print. The article’s first paragraph reveals that its headline is somewhere between misleading and shameless. What the authors are really saying is that we’re using the web differently—relying more on apps and less on web browsers—but he’s not saying the web is dead… except in the headline. In some circles, this would be considered a shady tactic… but since this is Wired, I guess we’ll all just forgive the bait-and-switch. But what’s really being argued by the authors?
Let’s get into the meat of the piece for a minute, shall we? Chris Anderson and Michael Wolff start things off with a very pretty graph—an infographic—that shows how people are using the web. And it’s very dramatic to see the growth of peer-to-peer and video behaviors alongside the dwindling of things like FTP, newsgroups, and the web. Here, take a look at it:
Of course, there are some problems with this infographic:
First, it ends at 2005. Are we to believe that it took five years for the authors to fully process the data and complete the article? Or is it simply that they don’t have any data for post-2005? Or is this a mistake?
Second, where did this data come from? The graph has one credit in the lower left portion: “Sources: Cisco estimates based on CAIDA publications, Andrew Odlyzko.” But I can’t click that. I can Google it, and the first result is the Wired story (nice), followed by several listings which get me no closer to the root data.
I suppose I could go straight to the CAIDA’s website and search through the volumes of information to try and piece together what was used for Wired’s infographic… but I shouldn’t have to, should I? If you’re going to claim things like “the web is dead” based on statistical evidence, then you shouldn’t be afraid to clearly link to your data source. Instead, you give me two sources (Cisco and CAIDA) and link to neither.
But even if they had linked directly to a data source, you and I both know it’d be unreliable. There is no single source for traffic and usage data for the whole of the Internet. It does not exist. Which is why people tend to take things like comScore analysis or Alexa rankings with a few grains of salt. Data on web usage can come from ISPs, browser add-ons, website analytics, and a thousand other sources. And no one company or organization has their fingers in all those sources. So we’re all just guessing based on data for the tiniest sliver of the web’s population.
For instance, the Wired piece suggests that video accounts for nearly 51% of online activity by users—which should make all of us here at ReelSEO very happy, right? They compare that to 23% for the web. But how is YouTube represented on this graph? Is it filed as video, which it clearly is? Or is it filed under the web, which it also clearly is? We don’t know. We’re just looking at slick graphics with numbers. (And are they seriously claiming that 51% of online user traffic was for video in 2005, or is that a typo on their graphic?)
And how can there be any weight given to these Wired numbers when Nielsen—a metrics company with a pretty decent reputation—says that less than 3.9% of users online time is spent on video? Oh, and don’t forget comScore’s July 2010 report, which came out yesterday, and said that 177 million Americans spend an average of 14 hours a month watching video—that’s 30 minutes a day.
If all these reports and studies and findings are starting to contradict each other a bit—and they are—then how can we draw any meaningful conclusions from them? (Hint: we can’t).
Let’s talk about what Wired is for a moment. It’s a magazine. Its origins are as a print publication. What’s been happening with print publications—magazines and newspapers—over the last few years?(notice that I have a stat for that, which I link to directly). Why are subscriptions dropping? Because you can get a lot of that content online for free. But publications have struggled to replace lost revenue from canceled subscriptions with the revenues earned by online ads. So many publications have embraced Apple’s iPad device as a possible savior because it allows for a new way to experience magazine and newspaper-style journalism digitally. Wired had one of the first iPad apps—a paid app—and they’ve gotten a lot of publicity for it.
And now they’ve written a piece based on vague data, with an inflammatory headline, the thesis of which seems to be that people are leaving websites behind and moving to apps. In some ways, it’s one big love letter to the iPad—and commercial for Wired’s own apps—and not the unbiased analysis it purports to be.
Of course, the web isn’t really dead. It’s just changing, as it’s done several times before and as it will again. The web is just the connection between us, and what we do with that connection—whether it’s email or websites or apps or file-sharing—is always going to evolve along with technology and humans themselves.
But it’s not as spicy a headline to write that “The Way We Use The Web Is Changing.” That won’t get near as many links or pageviews. And so they went with something more misleading… because they know that even people who see through their link-baiting tactic, like I did, will still write about their article, like I did.
What’s sad is that I think the debate over how we’re using the web—and how we’ll use it moving forward—is completely valid and timely and important. I just wish people could let it stand on its own merit instead of dressing it up as something Chicken Little would write just so we can grab a few links. And I’m not the only one who feels that way. Wired published a companion piece, an e-debate consisting of emails back and forth between the author, Tim O’Reilly (founder of O’Reilly Media) and John Battelle (founder of Federated Media). Battelle’s final comment sort of sums up my feelings pretty well:
“As a last word, I’d like to say that if the scope of the piece was really just about the web as a viable model for ‘professional content’ as we see it, then splashing ‘The Death of the Web’ on the cover might be, well, overstating the case just a wee bit…”
The Web Is Changing
People are changing the ways they connect to and interact with online content. For our purposes, almost all reputable metrics point to video being on the rise and one of the most dominant forms of online content. Some of our audience members might find that video on YouTube. Some might find it on Facebook. Some might only see it in the apps they apply to their mobile device. If nothing else, the Wired article can serve as a reminder to us of all the many options our intended audience members have to choose from.
It’s crucial for video creators and marketers to understand these trends in technology and content delivery. Because the web is constantly in flux, video producers have to stay up to date on mobile video, apps, HTML5, and more. The web might be dead (it isn’t), but one thing we know for sure: video is alive and well–heck, even Wired agrees with that.