August 19, 2010
It’s Time to Think Beyond the Browser

Since the inception of the World Wide Web, prevailing wisdom has been that value is created by building public websites. The open standards and universal access created a level playing field that was greater than any single system. The AOL walled garden could never compete with the open Internet. The mantra was that the intelligence was at the "fringe of the network."

But what if AOL was right? More value is created in the private Internet. What if closed networks are more effective and profitable than the traditional open web?

Fast forward to today. Think about the most powerful digital content services: Facebook, Apple iTunes and Apps, Amazon Kindle, Skype, LinkedIn, Twitter, Netflix, While these services may use the Internet to send and receive information, they are not public websites, or in many cases websites at all. Google does not index them; they are not publically accessible without downloading an application, purchasing a device, or accepting terms of service.

In the case of Apple and its iTunes empire, there is very little "empowering digital expression" to borrow a term from, well, Apple. First, iTunes and Apps are not websites or open. The content in iTunes is controlled by Apple, the devices are built by Apple, the development framework (Objective C) is owned by Apple, the API is controlled and restricted by Apple, all applications are approved by Apple and even in the new iAd program, Apple actually approves and produces all of the ads directly. Despite a complete rejection of the open Internet, Apple has surpassed Microsoft in market cap and does not appear to be slowing down.

Facebook also completely rejected conventional web wisdom. Originally, they limited who could join. First students only, then slowly (then rapidly) they expanded, but never broke the cloistered culture. With 500 million users today Facebook can be considered a private web where the experience and rules of the road are dictated by one entity.

Personally, I am an adamant believer in the open Internet. But like the American "Wild Wild West" of the 1,800s that Internet is quickly disappearing. In fact today less than 25% of bandwidth on the Internet is used for HTML-based websites (http over port 80), steeply down from just a few years ago. The majority of bandwidth is consumed by video, peer-to-peer systems, and other applications. In fact, according to Mary Meeker from Morgan Stanley within the next five years "more users will connect to the Internet over mobile devices than desktop PCs." According to other estimates, the number of connected devices is expected to grow from 1 billion to 50 billion by 2020.

Pause and think about that for a moment. Then think about your mobile and device strategy compared to the focus you put into PC web operations. My guess is that it is not even close. Oh, and by the way, most of the users on the mobile web have little to no interest in opening a browser and visiting your HTML website.

Digging deeper into Meeker's research, it is also apparent that this new mobile web will be ten times larger and is moving ten times faster in its evolution than the PC web did.

In the light of this research, Verizon's and Google's recent joint policy statement that expressed support for net neutrality on the public Internet, but left the mobile web glaringly off the table is so troubling, and telling of the future of the Internet. In short, the current policy of the Internet titans is that your bits are not worth as much as theirs, an open attack on the principals of the open web and the "dumb network" on which it is built. They are conceding the PC web so they can control the larger and more profitable mobile web.  

I am not completely opposed to the private Internet. These systems have always been with us. If you stream media or access websites deployed on Akamai, chances are very little data is moving across public pipes until the last mile. In education, the Internet 2 consortium is clearly valuable in enabling research. I am also sympathetic to the investment that Verizon and AT&T are making to support the huge spike in mobile 3G consumption as well as the massive 4G investments required. But I also believe that on the Web, whether wired or wireless, net neutrality is as critical a policy as freedom and democracy are to our political lives.

However, the shift from the open web to private networks and devices is not really about how bits are delivered; it is about how consumers and businesses have chosen to use the Internet.  

So let's be realists. While the Internet and traditional websites will always be important to your content strategy, it is time to think beyond the browser. We no longer live in a world where you can assume a website is the most effective - or profitable way - to communicate with your audience. Nor is the PC the only screen you need to target. In the next few years your content will need to be deployed to devices, closed networks, and communities that are not part of the open web at all. The open standards and technologies you use today may not be the device and network specific technologies you need tomorrow. From a web strategy standpoint, developing private communities may be a more effective investment than your public web communications. Mobile and device support may deliver more rewards than HTML web pages.

The metrics we use to measure success will also need to change. Gone are bare-bones reports on Page Views and Bounce Rates. In the connected web, value is measured in signals over noise. It is not the quantity of experiences, but the quality. You need a new set of KPI's that focus not on the many people you touch, but the few you engage.

This shift has profound effect on not only your web strategy, but also your content management system. The new world of multi-touch user experiences, devices and private communities introduces a whole new set of challenges. The problem for many organizations is that they have invested in single channel Web CMS strategy. Moreover, the trend in CMS has been to integrate content delivery with content management - or as we describe this trend, systems where "the CMS is your website." Most of our direct competitors fall into this tightly coupled category. Despite the hype and jargon about multi-channel from many vendors, the "fry or die" model spells trouble when you look to deploy content beyond the traditional PC web. You need more than syndication to be successful.

Ingeniux is the exception. In a multi-channel and mobile device world, an intelligent XML content server is exactly what you need to successful. Ingeniux builds its technology on open standard XML and JSON, the very glue that binds the web, applications, and devices together. We support decoupled content delivery to push or pull content to any target, anywhere, in any format. This agility provides the ability to deliver content not only to the PC web, but also to any new device or application service you need to support.

One great example of how an Ingeniux customer is taking advantage of our multi-channel delivery is Seattle University School of Law. Beyond its traditional website, Seattle University School of Law operates a multi-touch kiosk system. The kiosks, called Dockets, provide application-based services, such as weather and traffic feeds along with editorially-driven content, such as announcements and event calendaring. The entire system is driven from Ingeniux CMS and content is automatically repurposed across both the public PC web and private touch screen systems.

With Cartella, our community server, Ingeniux customers are also creating valuable social interactions and transforming their public web experiences into highly personal, valuable private communities. Whether mainstream media brands like Fremantle Media and the community, or the sales and customer collaboration systems at Workday, or premium business networks like Input, Cartella is helping maximize the value of the web in ways that traditional websites never could.

The Internet is changing fast. Traditional methods of content management and delivery do not fit the mobile web, apps, social networks, or private communities. When planning your content strategy you need to think beyond the browser. Evaluate the changing nature of the web and how your content and just as important, your content management system, fit where you need to go.  

As always I appreciate your opinions. Please feel free to leave a comment. If you want to reach me directly, you can always find me on Twitter

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