The Changing Form of the Web Browser

Warning This article was written over six months ago, and may contain outdated information.

I wrote an arti­cle, The Chang­ing Form of the Web Brows­er, for rehab­stu­dio (my employ­er). It’s about the present and near-future of the web brows­er, in a mar­ket where the con­sump­tion of infor­ma­tion and ser­vices is shift­ing. It’s quite a long piece, and nec­es­sar­i­ly broad for a non-tech­ni­cal audi­ence, so there is per­haps a lack of nuance in its con­clu­sions. Still, I’m quite proud of it, a lot of research and writ­ing was involved.

There’s an extract below, but I sug­gest you read the whole thing in con­text if you can.

The changing shape of content and services

In the past, a pub­lish­er would put con­tent — say, a news sto­ry or oth­er longer-form arti­cle — on their web­site, and peo­ple would vis­it the web­site to read it. In a mod­ern infor­ma­tion flow, con­tent is pub­lished on the web­site first, but then pushed out to Flip­board, Face­book Instant Arti­cles, Apple News, et al. It might per­haps even be mod­i­fied for video plat­forms like Snapchat. Dis­cov­ery is rarely through the home page of a news web­site, but more often through social chan­nels, apps, and email.

In this mod­el the pub­lish­er becomes a wire ser­vice, sac­ri­fic­ing con­trol over how the con­tent is dis­played, and direct adver­tis­ing rev­enue, for a greater audi­ence. Many (most?) peo­ple will nev­er view the con­tent in its orig­i­nal home on the web, except per­haps as a link to a web view in a brows­er embed­ded inside an app like Twitter.

It’s not only con­tent that’s see­ing this shift, the way we access infor­ma­tion ser­vices has also changed. A web por­tal like Yahoo! col­lates every­thing that a user could want — news, weath­er, stock infor­ma­tion, shop­ping bar­gains, etc — into a sin­gle des­ti­na­tion. Peo­ple today still want the same things, but rarely in the same place, pre­fer­ring instead to break up the infor­ma­tion into mul­ti­ple sin­gle-focus apps which they can access more conveniently.

Some infor­ma­tion, such as cal­en­dar appoint­ments, map direc­tions, or bus timeta­bles, is only use­ful at cer­tain times. Dig­i­tal assis­tant apps like Google Now, Siri, and Cor­tana, with devices like Android Wear and Apple Watch, promise to deliv­er rel­e­vant infor­ma­tion at appro­pri­ate moments, with­out any inter­ac­tion with a brows­er at all.

Ser­gio Nou­v­el iden­ti­fies this change as “a shift from web pages to web ser­vices: self-suf­fi­cient bits of infor­ma­tion that can be com­bined to oth­er ser­vices to deliv­er val­ue”. The log­i­cal con­clu­sion to this is that the brows­er may dis­ap­pear almost entire­ly in the future, as the infor­ma­tion we require from it is capa­ble of being dis­played by oth­er means. But in the mean­time, it’s use­ful to look at how browsers are adapt­ing to these changes.

The Chang­ing Form of the Web Brows­er.

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