Internet on mobile devices has taken off. Mobile phones, tablet computers and devices somewhere in between like the iPod Touch, all have mobile browsers. The Internet has become truly portable.
But the browser might soon become obsolete. Many content providers have now come out with applications that give you their content in a one click solution, no need to remember URL’s or to store bookmarks. In effect, the app has become the bookmark, taking you directly to the content and – more importantly to the provider of the content – the ads.
Smart entrepreneurs have developed applications that trawl the Internet for the content you like and gather it all in a uniform environment. Using RSS or other techniques these application present you with a custom made magazine on your device. Skipping – to the annoyance of many of the content providers – the ads. An example of such an app is Flipboard but there are others.
Applications per provider (i.e. the Times app, the Telegraph app, the Engadget app etc.) are all very well but having to launch an app for every separate outlet is a bit of a hassle so the news scraping apps or RSS readers are much easier for the user. A one-time setup is all that’s needed to keep informed. So from a user’s perspective, these apps are great.
But there is a snag. Many websites exist on their advertising revenue. Without those ads catching eyeballs, many websites just could not exist. When their content is scraped into a third party application that strips out their ads or even worse, injects their own, these websites are as good as dead. Of course there is the issue of copyright but when has that ever stopped an Internet meme?
Some newspapers thought to solve their financial problems by putting their paper behind a paywall i.e. to view their content an online paid subscription was needed. Linking to their stories and circumventing ads is no longer possible then. This turned out to be a big mistake: the visiting numbers to their websites plummeted. In case of the Times in the UK by as much as 90%. This means not only do they lose advertising revenue, they lose potential subscribers to other, smarter forms of paid content as well. A costly loss both long and short term.
The question how Internet content is going to be paid for is a valid one. The answer is not easy to give. However, in the short history of the Internet it has been said many times that the end of the Web is near and so far it has only grown and become more ubiquitous.
The first generation use of an idea is not the only way the idea is going to be used. There are going to be iterations on this idea. When the Internet started to invade households in the early nineties, web pages where static affairs with ugly buttons. Now they have become highly interactive, slick hubs of information. The idea of a centralised app where all your information is gathered is too good to fall by the wayside, just because the providers can’t get their financial situation sorted. In this case, both parties – the provider of information and the harvester – are served by a mutual solution and if the Internet has shown one thing it is that where there is a need, there is a way.
I for one, think it is a good idea to have a digital magazine in my hands where I am the chief editor and decide which quality providers can show their articles in a homogeneous environment of my choosing. Websites are all very well, but sometimes their design is just a bit distracting.