Is the ‘splinternet’ for real?

Michel Bauwens pointed me to a discussion that happened in late January this year, and asked me to report on what Josh Bernoff at Forrester, an internet analysis and consulting company, called the “splinternet”.

Bernoff’s contention was that with the ever greater number of proprietary (mobile) platforms out there, and with some content on the web migrating increasingly behind pay-or-get-out-of-here type walls, the internet as we know it is falling apart. Rather than the internet, he says, we will be talking about the splinternet, a divided and in some way discordant net that will make it difficult for those who would like to sell their content or profit from advertising associated with it, to continue working efficiently.

Each new device has its own ad networks, format, and technology. Each new social site has its login and many hide content from search engines.

We call this new world the Splinternet (with a nod to Doc Searls and Rich Tehrani, who used the term before us with a somewhat different meaning). It will splinter the Web as a unified system. The golden age has lasted 15 years. Like all golden ages, it lasted so long we thought it would last forever. But the end is in sight.

Bernoff’s advice:

Here’s what not to do: panic and try to unify things again. The shattering cannot be undone.

Here’s what to do: choose your devices carefully — investments in one cannot be transferred easily to others if you make a mistake. Rethink analytics, links, and measurement — they’re just becoming available in the new environments.

The Splinternet means the end of the Web’s golden age

Incisive changes in the internet that nothing can be done about?

Readers of the article didn’t seem to agree.

Some pointed out that the web is not the same as the internet. Others said that while hardware platforms may be proliferating, the content is not splitting. A few were confident that developing standards, like HTML5, will take care of the problem.

Dave Culbertson says:
You seem to be confusing the World Wide Web with Internet. For example, The W3C is not an Internet standard – it’s a Web standard.

The Web is just one car riding on the Internet’s highway of data. To quote Wikipedia:

“Although the two terms are sometimes conflated in popular use, World Wide Web is not synonymous with Internet.[3] The Internet consists of a worldwide collection of computers and sub-networks exchanging data using wires, cables, and radio links, whereas the World Wide Web is a huge set of documents, images, and other ‘resources’ linked by an abstract ‘web’ of hypertext links and URLs.”

Granted, the Web is the most commonly used channel on the Internet but it’s never been the only one. Email is not the same as the Web. Usenet is not the same as the Web. FTP is not the same as the Web.

So now, new Internet channels are emerging (smart phone apps, Internet-connected home appliances, etc.) and the Web itself is facing some splintering (which I believe will fail unless the companies putting up Google walls find channels to get around Google.)

But the foundation doesn’t change – The Internet is still the underlying connection. When a business begins with that understanding, the big picture becomes easier to see.

Larry Port takes up the issue of a new standard, HTML5, that is supported by Apple and that will, in time, displace proprietary rendering applications such as Adobe’s Flash. Here is what he says:
Great name in “Splinternet”, interesting ideas in your post. I gotta be honest though, I think you’re wrong on this one. No offense to you or your meme.

I’m confused about your use of Internet and Web synonymously in your post. They’re not the same. Looks like Dave picked up on that one.

What about fully functional mobile browsers? That’s the biggest issue I have with your argument. Consumer demand for rich web surfing forces Droid and iPhone offer standards-compliant browsers, and Windows and Blackberry users have options as well (and as any Blackberry owner will confess, they’re all jealous of the Safari browser).

And the future? The W3C HTML 5 spec is already being implemented in the major browsers, with offline access there already and advanced rendering on the way. Safari, IE 8, Firefox, Chrome, they’re all on board. What HTML 5 will do is force content providers to throw their hands up and say to themselves: who wants to develop a native app when you can build an incredibly rich HTML 5 app that everyone can use on any device? And they don’t have to worry about approval or upgrade issues.

But let me be up front, I’m a software engineer doing web apps for the last 10 years, so there’s bound to be some bias …

There are more, and some of them very interesting, comments on that article and there are also some replies by the writer, Josh Bernoff. I can’t quote them all, but if you are interested in this particular controversy, here again is the link to the article with all the comments…

The Splinternet means the end of the Web’s golden age

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