The Third Era of the Web

By Deane Barker on May 30, 2003

The third era starts here: This article is a good overall introduction to where the Web is headed. It’s worth reading if you think the Web is going to stay a “come-and-read-my-Web-page” affair:

The programmable web is different for two main reasons. First, instead of going to look at a web page, you can get a computer to extract the information for you. Second, you don’t have to view that information in a browser: you could use it in a different application, or on a different device, such as a mobile phone.

I’ve been interested lately in how the use of news aggregators will change the Web. I never found an aggregator I liked until NewsGator (and yes, I paid for a copy this morning). There are now a dozen sites that I haven’t actually visited — meaning, retrieved in a browser — since installing the app.

How does this affect those site operators? If they had a revenue model that depended on banner advertising, click-throughs to Amazon affiliate accounts, or even a link to a tip jar, then they’re out of luck. Instead of being exposed to an entire page of content — ads and all — I just scan a list of naked headlines in Outlook. I have tunnel-vision to just the content I want, without even considering anything outside of it, which is very well where the site operator’s revenue model was located.

You have to wonder if there will ever be a backlash. When Webmasters see their ad impressions and affiliate-clickthroughs steadily dropping, will they start restricting the content of their RSS feeds or at least requiring a click through to the site for the complete item (some do this now, some don’t). In one way, using an RSS feed is like going on the free vacation but skipping the timeshare sales presentation at the end.

Additionally, what impact will this have on design and usability? I added a bunch of sites today from the list of Bloggie winners. I looked at their sites only long enough to find the white-on-orange XML icon. I’ll likely never “visit” their sites again. The design that they labored over for weeks and weeks means nothing to me. And the usability of their site doesn’t matter either — if they want to change their font to 24pt Comic Sans MS, fantastic.

Think of it this way — if you were getting married but you knew you’d only talk to your new wife over the phone, would you care what she looked like? No, you’d care about her personality and ability to have an enjoyable conversation. You’d care about her…content.

RSS and Web services will change the Web. Completely.