Life After Websites

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Are we entering into a world where websites are becoming antiquated?

There are many articles online right now about Facebook and their desire to move the messenger component out of its current environment – where it is one functionality of the overall Facebook experience – and into one of its own – an isolated application (see here: Mashable – Facebook Confirms: the Messenger App Split Has Started). Many people are not falling in love with the terms of service for this Facebook Messenger app (see here: Wall Street Journal – Facebook Messenger Privacy Fears? Here’s What You Need To Know), which is slanting the launch of into another battle between users and Facebook over privacy. It’s easy to lose focus online and see this as the headline. It’s not. The headline really is: Facebook doesn’t want to be one website or singular destination. Facebook wants to own every app that consumers use in a very different digital world.

The hardware is now driving software.

For Facebook to grow, it needs to diversify. Adding more functionality into Facebook is essential but it won’t help them scale in the way that the public markets will demand. So, they need to either build new things (like Paper), acquire other companies (like Instagram and Oculus Rift) or decouple popular components of Facebook and turn them into stand-alone applications (like they’re trying to do with Messenger). Why? It’s a much more compelling business story for Facebook to demonstrate that they own the social networking, picture taking, chatting, and even the virtual reality experience of the consumer, than to show which sections of the online social networking platform are being used most by consumers.

Consumers habits continue to evolve as well.

In June of this year, IDC issued a report which stated that the computer has been relegated to an accessory for mobile devices. It started when smartphones and mobile devices began to ship more units that PCs a few years back, then we began to see the install base of these devices shift. Now, the forecasts of what the personal computer space looks like when compared to the growth of tablets and smartphones tells the full tale. Computers – as we have known them to date – are heading for the same destiny as Eight Track Cassettes, the Betamax and more. In fact, it doesn’t take a futurist to realize that as more and more devices become connected, and we start getting exposed to next-generation technologies like Google Glass and self-driving cars, we may soon no longer need any form of device on us, if connected screens are ubiquitous, cheap and, literally, everywhere.

Don’t laugh.

Wired Magazine ran a cover story in 2010 about the death of the website (The Web Is Dead. Long Live The Internet). Everybody laughed. It seemed silly. Well, if we are increasingly becoming more and more mobile and using smartphones and tablets as the primary way that we connect, perhaps the Web browser app on your mobile device will become the least important app as brands (both B2C and B2B) create specific apps targeted for their consumers, as a way to to get better capture the home screen of our mobile devices? Maybe brands will realize that multiple apps that provide a variety of services (to sell, to inform, to empower, etc…) is the way to go. Amazon acts as a current bellwether of this thinking. The Amazon app allows you to buy stuff. The Kindle app allows you to read stuff. Zappos (which Amazon owns) becomes the shoes and clothing app. Perhaps with this first iteration of their Amazon Fire phone, they will leverage the data that they are collecting to drive the apps that they will create next. Still laughing? Think about Google and Android. Gmail app. Google Maps app… and the list keeps on going.

Apps are the new business.   

Perhaps this idea isn’t all that exciting to you. Perhaps you feel that your customers are still, primarily, Web-based. Understood. Fair. But, it’s hard to deny the reality of the one screen world. It is here. It is evolving fast. What makes this most fascinating is the opportunity to use this move from Web browser and websites to apps, as a way to create and extend product lines and brand extensions. Now, instead of just selling a physical product online or promoting a service, the app dominance of the Web creates the ability for brands to produce paid and freemium apps (if they can figure this out). This extension of merchandising should bring forward an entirely new set of digital products and services. Done well, this would mean more revenue and different revenue models.

So, does the of the Web browser signal the beginning of new digital businesses? I think so. What do you think?