The Internet is Alright

At first, I began getting worked up about ‘Appification’ destroying the web. The web works because of the open ended Hypertext Transport Protocol (HTTP) enabling intercommunications between Internet servers (and services) and individual connected devices based on a client-server model (Irvine, 1). This means there has always been enormous potential of building client-side devices in various ways to enable access to the web. Yet any client-side device/software, be it Apple II, IBM, PC series, or Microsoft had to follow design rules of the World Wide Web. The open, standards-based, device-independent architecture meant that it was distributed, modular, extensible, interoperable, and scalable (Irvine, 2). The networked “hypertext” system is now networked “hypermedia”, with images, videos, audio, all available alongside textual information, each hyperlinked. The link-encoded displayable objects produce on-screen indicators in the graphical interface (colored or otherwise marked text strings, icons, navigational indicators) (Irvine, 3). This extensible feature of the Web is what gave rise to applications. Since modularity and extensibility were features of the web, the market exploited this by building apps which tap into a portion of the internet to retrieve information that the specific application requires.

For example, Tinder a popular match making app, uses the web to store information about its users on servers. When a user logs into tinder and starts swiping, they are sending network deliverable files to tinder servers. This app uses the ISP (Internet Service Provider) to send those files to the nearest DNS node, a cooperatively run set of databases (White, 369). The DNS informs your app of the IP address where your app sends a request to receive communication from tinder servers, which responds with images and texts of people near your location, which you can go through (Swipe). The images and texts of people in your area, is a very small subset of the vast information available around the web. Now think if that was your only access to the web, and anything and everything you wanted to learn about the world would be via Tinder. This is “appification” where applications replace general purpose browsers as gateways to the www.

I began this essay by saying that I was getting worked up. I got worked up because it sounds like facebook is doing exactly what I tried to show with my hypothetical “Tinder as the sole access to the web” example. Mobile computing has moved from, as Zittrain puts it, “from a generative Internet that fosters innovation and disruption, to an appliancized network that incorporates some of the most powerful features of today’s Internet while…heightening its regulability.”(Zittrain, 8). A set of blunt solutions to the problem of overwhelming information and security issues that were waiting to emerge from the open architecture of the web.

After getting worked up, I began searching for features in applications that compromise open ended access for ease of use. I began with google maps and I could find every feature that I needed, with no difference in the desktop as opposed to the mobile application. The same thing happened with chrome as a browser on desktop as opposed to the application. And it kept on happening as I moved across multiple apps. Apps had almost everything their desktop counterparts had, even though I really thought that there has to be some sort of compromise!

I think as long as we have a search engine (google or otherwise) that indexes  every website as extensively and regularly as the googlebot (White, 374), the web will always be accessible. I think it will stay on as this vast ocean, that we once voyaged across. But we voyaged only because we needed something from it.  “People never cared about the Web vs. apps and devices,” commented Mark Walsh, co-founder of geniusrocket.com. “They want free stuff, entertainment, and services when they want them, and on the device they have in front of them” (The Future of Apps and Web). Now that we have a plentiful right where we are at, there is no need to go on long journeys across the web. But if we wish, the indexing search engine will always ensure that there is unlimited access, even if the search engine itself is ‘appified’. The Internet will live.

 

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