The worldwide web has been a beautiful thing. You only need to search “most beautiful websites” in your favorite search engine to come across places of true splendor.
With the onward march of Facebook, however, as it approaches its billionth active user, as well as the increasing use of native apps, how much of the visual real estate that was the original open web will be left to admire and enjoy? Whilst so much inventiveness, sheer people hours and coding goes into brand new channels of distribution, advertising and product placement, how can we be sure that in three or four years’ time the web as we have known it will even be worth considering?
Why not, indeed, just join the Facebook or apps crowd and forget about all those design decisions you once had to take?
Facebook versus apps
Facebook is clearly carving up the open web. It doesn’t cost anything to get in this gently walled garden – but once you are there, and has been recently observed, it’s clear the customer is actually the product and the advertisers are the customers. So far, so good. Nothing really new there. From the traditional times of newspaper classifieds, content and features have always been generated in terms that advertisers are likely to appreciate. You can’t, for example, sell balance transfer credit cards if you don’t provide content or context which allows the advertiser in question to reach their audience.
Facebook, however, is also a homogenizing influence, which in a world where branding and differentiation are all is not necessarily a positive we should value. Whilst its technologies are sophisticated, very few if any Facebook pages for commercial endeavor are ever going to give you that “Wow!” factor a well-designed website can give a PC, tablet or even smartphone user. It’s not just that the interface is common across the whole of Facebook’s dynamics but it also requires any business to get heavily involved in the sometimes sapping activity of social media. In the hands of a professional, the latter can be just what your business needed. Not all social media professionals are as professional as they could be, though; neither are all businesses quite ready for the sometimes rough and tumble of real customer interaction.
Facebook clearly isn’t right for everyone, at least at the moment, however widely it’s clearly being used.
Apps are a different matter. Especially if you’re a tablet or smartphone user, they can prove highly popular. It’s also much easier to control the message they transmit about your company. However, beware these technologies: they’re a relative newcomer to the interface scene and although they’ve been downloaded in massive numbers since Apple’s iPhone and then Google’s Android operating system arrived on the market, there’s some evidence to support the assertion that for money-generating activities such as e-commerce, apps are not all they’ve been cracked up to be.
This for example, from Nielsen recently and via TechCrunch, just goes to show that the web may still have a far more significant part to play in our future interactions with the Internet than many disciples of social media networks such as Facebook or technologies such as apps would have us believe.
The mobile web
Does the future then lie in a more sophisticated mobile web? All the trends would seem to indicate that whilst the PC, netbook and latterly the tablet are still holding their own, certainly in emerging markets – and perhaps even our own nowadays – the large-screened smartphone is taking over many of the functions previously reserved for the desktop.
Not, however, necessarily to buy with their apps. The fact that more people over the recent holiday period used Amazon’s mobile web instead of its app does seem to indicate that where well designed and easy to use, the freedom the web offers over the rather more restricting and limited structures of both apps and social media networks is still an important factor in deciding how we prefer to interface with information.
The freedom to browse, the freedom to drop jaws
Browsing, after all, is what a good shopper does. It’s a complex process whereby information is gathered on a just-in-case basis. This freedom which from time immemorial has characterized good bazaars and open-air markets everywhere is surely a part of why the worldwide web has been so key to our information experiences of the past decade.
It’s not just the freedoms it provides, of course. That “Wow!” factor already mentioned, when a web simply knocks you sideways and your jaw drops in mighty admiration, is a key driver in actually wanting to browse, in actually wanting to continue browsing. You know if you carry on for long enough you’ll be stumbling across yet another gem – and, boy, was that wait worth it!
Another place of marvelous creativity. Another place to tell your friends about. Another moment which drives you on to look for more.
Social media networks? They’re fine to exchange stuff – but jaw-dropping social media networks? Now that’s a different matter.
Give me a well-constructed website on the open web any time!