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How To Survive The End Of The World Wide Web

Duncan MacRae is former editor and now a contributor to TechWeekEurope. He previously edited Computer Business Review's print/digital magazines and CBR Online, as well as Arabian Computer News in the UAE.

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Companies must place user experience at the heart of digital innovation as the traditional web model dies, says Richard Knights, UK head of creative technology, Wipro Digital

The web was still in its infancy in 1998, but with 188 million users, its vast potential was already being realised.

At that time, its inventor, Tim Berners Lee, articulated his vision in the Semantic Web Road map. In the Road map, Berners-Lee described a glorious semantic space where information was machine readable and instantly retrievable, based on its structure and mark-up.

In some ways Berners-Lee’s vision has come to be. Google employs algorithms that sift through and index the noise collected by search engine spiders which scour the web for relevant content. And every major player in the technology space is developing artificial intelligence (AI). However, he would not recognise the web of today. Far from being a perfect semantic database of information, it’s drowning in a sea of advertising, making the online user experience increasingly poor.

adblockThis situation is understandable. Traditional media companies recognised early on that they were unlikely to survive in the online world unless they found ways of monetising their content through advertising. At first this advertising appeared in the form of simple banner ads. However, we’ve reached a point when it’s becoming difficult to distinguish adverts and sponsored posts from genuine editorial content.

As a result, developers have recognised customer needs and are selling solutions to block online advertising. While this is a boon for web surfers, this move could potentially decimate the revenue of a huge number of sites and seriously challenges the notion of the “free” Internet.

So what’s happening now?

Currently, we’re in a state of change, a disruption as large as the invention of the web itself, brought about by the web going mobile. This has commoditised and granulated information delivered via apps to such an extent that a large number of users have never even opened a web browser, preferring to experience the web and online services through Facebook, Snapchat and WhatsApp. The space where consumers interact with content and services has exploded, moving away from the browser and splitting across multiple platforms, with new platforms and disruptive methods of distributing content springing up all the time.

So, Berners-Lee’s vision has been fragmented and doesn’t seem relevant anymore. But the opportunities are vast if content creators and publishers look to the future rather than copying what’s worked in the past. Instead of categorising and adding metadata to information we must now shift and focus on categorising and adding meaning to experiences. Interactions must be contextual and relevant.

Users and the platform

Users are now the platform, because while the web is essentially anonymous, connected devices and apps have a closer connection to the user. This eliminates the need for scattershot click-based advertising, allowing for more personalised and targeted marketing, along with a better experience.

Google recognises the challenge this presents to its revenue stream, and in a bid to support advertisers, it has recently released Google AMP, accelerated mobile pages providing a platform for content publishers. Along with Facebook articles and Apple news, it’s an acknowledgment that the traditional web model is vanishing, requiring more innovation to succeed in a new landscape.

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