Article: The death of the URL

This is the most thought provoking article I’ve read in a while.    The author makes a valid point about different systems / walled-garden websites / app stores reducing access to and use of URLs.

The rise of the “app store mentality” is a direct attack on the web, and on the very nature of free discovery and choice built upon URL-based hyperlinks. By depriving us the ability to pick and choose which “stores” we shop from on these devices — we’re empowering a new breed of middle men and ceding to them monopoly control over our digital experience. The architecture of the web was intended to withstand such threats — but that all changes when the hardware makers get into the content business! Even though developers are beginning to see the dark side of this faustian bargain, the momentum is huge — and big business smells money.

By removing our ability to navigate, choose, and share freely — these app stores are exchanging our freedom for a promise that they’ll keep us safe, give us everything we need, and do all the choosing of what’s “good enough” for us — all starting at ninety-nine cents a hit.

I believe there are another few caveats to add to this…  As we move towards mobile internet devices, we are limited by screen size.  Native apps like on the iPhone (and others) may well be the way to go as can they give good functionality in a small area.  It can be good to have a number of apps that all do something specific very well, if that is what meets your needs.  The author’s point seems to be principally that access to the monopolistic stores is determined by the handset makers. This is not always the case – with the Android store, access is not limited and developers do not have to bend to the whimsical follies of an owner.  I think that native apps are a perfectly good way of doing things.  They are internet enabled, so they can use systems, like GPS, that go beyond simple browsing of the net.  In fact, it is this additional functionality that is pushing innovation on the web.  It is the “always on” aspect that is important.  As long as people have a free choice of apps, how a person chooses to interact with their service of choice is up to them – even if it affects URLs.

Next point:

something tells me that the next generation “PC” devices are going to revolve around slicker, streamlined interfaces that come pre-packaged with fewer choices drawn from a set of likely suspects (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, Google, Yahoo et al.).

Google Chrome OS on netbooks would appear to contradict this – its main function is to get you up and running on the web as soon as possible, as quickly as possible and as safely as possible.  It’s all still browser based, so the URL will be safe and well.  Google’s interest is that people use their services, but any web usage is good for them.  Maybe Google is not the best example.   Facebook is though.   Twitter may want to be the next “walled-garden” as a way of monetising their service, but people like Dave Winer are already discussing ways of taking the principles behind Twitter (limited characters, real-time) and making it a more “open” federated system that anyone could run but works well with others.  Taking a service and making it a protocol.  That may just kill off the dreaded “short” URL, which would not be a bad thing.

And:

I don’t know about you, but a future without URLs and without the infinite organicity of the web frightens me….. The URL and the ability for anyone to mint a new one and then propagate it is what makes the web so resilient, so empowering, and so interesting! That I don’t need to ask anyone permission to create a new website or webpage is a kind of ideological freedom that few generations in history have known!

I agree, in principle.  However, URLs are not likely to be around forever,  at least in the form that they are now.  We will still need a way of finding content, but that content may not be in the form of “pages” that require a direct address.  Interface changes will play a powerful role in this.  What has worked well for the last fifteen years may not be the best solution for the next fifteen.

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