The web is not dying
I’ve been seeing more tweets lately—particularly from Google Chrome developer Alex Russell—that the web is dying.
The web is a mess. Modern “best practices” are creating a slow, obnoxious experience for users. There a few big, influential companies who have a vested interest in subverting the web or creating a walled garden.
But that’s to say nothing of the platform itself.
The web platform, this beautiful thing that we build sites and apps on, is alive and thriving.
Creating walled gardens
Big, influential social media sites like Twitter and Facebook have a vested interest in keeping you on their sites.
Their web apps are bad. Their mobile apps act as a web browser when you click links, keeping “inside” their cozy little garden.
Apple makes a ton of money from their app store. They have a vested interest in web apps being inferior to “real” apps. Safari lags way behind Chrome, Firefox, and Edge in feature implementation, both on desktop and mobile. Progressive Web Apps are there, finally, but not as full featured as other browsers.
Chrome developers are the first to complain that they can’t use their own rendering engine on iOS, but Google is not an innocent player in all this, either.
As an ad company, Google has a vested interest in keeping you in a walled garden, too. You see this in things like AMP, masking URLs in the address bar, and a browser that shares everything you look at on the web with them.
Chrome moves fast, but does so by pushing out features without meaningful participation in a cross-vendor standards process. And while they’re great at implementing JS features, they’re behind on CSS features.
Sounds bad, right? It gets worse.
The web is bloated
While the size of an average website gets bigger and bigger, the web as a whole is getting slower.
We’ve built a delicate house of cards.
But still… the web is not dying.
The web is flourishing
More people than ever have access to the web.
Countries that skipped the desktop revolution entirely can now connect to the web thanks to these incredible computers we all carry around in our pockets. No, they’re not as powerful as the latest iPhone. And no, we’re not doing enough to build a web that works for those people and those devices.
But the web is spreading, not shrinking.
Putting something on the web is easier than it’s ever been, too. There are so many options for hosting blogs and spinning up sites.
Hosted platforms like WordPress and Squarespace make it easy for people with almost no technical skills to build a website. Static site generators make building customized, super fast sites easier than ever. DigitalOcean provides reliable, dirt-cheap virtualized hosting. Netlify makes deploying static sites across the globe simple and (relatively) painless.
There are countless courses, tutorials, and articles people can reference to learn how to build things for the web.
Progressive web apps mean that websites can function like full-fledged “real” apps, including working offline.
There are many challenges to face as the web grows.
Most of them are people problems. Habits. Inertia. A misalignment of priorities with user needs. Those can be overcome.
I don’t know how you can look at all of these amazing tools and technology and feel like the web itself is doing anything other than flourishing, though.
Will the web still exist in 100 years?
I tweeted a bit about this earlier in the week, and Ashi Krishnan asked me:
I’ll ask you the same Q I asked Alex: do you think we’ll be using the web in a century? A millennia?
It’s a fair question, but to paraphrase CGP Grey, I don’t think it’s precise enough.
I do think we’ll still be using the web in a century. I think the way we’ll use the web will likely be very different in a 100 years.
How? Impossible to say.
Technology moves so fast, and yet so very slow. We were supposed to have flying cars (or least full-fledged self-driving cars) by now. We don’t, and we won’t any time in the near future.
Cars have changed tremendously over the last 50 to 100 years as technology has improved. But they’re also still fundamentally the same as they always were: four wheels, a frame, a steering wheel, and an engine to move it forward.
I imagine that 100 years from now, the web still, at it’s core, but a network of information that connects people to each other. How we access it, and how we interact with it, may be very different. It may be very much the same.
But I don’t think the web is going anywhere.