The Changing Form of the Web Browser

Warning This article was written over six months ago, and may contain outdated information.

I wrote an article, The Changing Form of the Web Browser, for rehabstudio (my employer). It’s about the present and near-future of the web browser, in a market where the consumption of information and services is shifting. It’s quite a long piece, and necessarily broad for a non-technical audience, so there is perhaps a lack of nuance in its conclusions. Still, I’m quite proud of it, a lot of research and writing was involved.

There’s an extract below, but I suggest you read the whole thing in context if you can.

The changing shape of content and services

In the past, a publisher would put content — say, a news story or other longer-form article — on their website, and people would visit the website to read it. In a modern information flow, content is published on the website first, but then pushed out to Flipboard, Facebook Instant Articles, Apple News, et al. It might perhaps even be modified for video platforms like Snapchat. Discovery is rarely through the home page of a news website, but more often through social channels, apps, and email.

In this model the publisher becomes a wire service, sacrificing control over how the content is displayed, and direct advertising revenue, for a greater audience. Many (most?) people will never view the content in its original home on the web, except perhaps as a link to a web view in a browser embedded inside an app like Twitter.

It’s not only content that’s seeing this shift, the way we access information services has also changed. A web portal like Yahoo! collates everything that a user could want — news, weather, stock information, shopping bargains, etc — into a single destination. People today still want the same things, but rarely in the same place, preferring instead to break up the information into multiple single-focus apps which they can access more conveniently.

Some information, such as calendar appointments, map directions, or bus timetables, is only useful at certain times. Digital assistant apps like Google Now, Siri, and Cortana, with devices like Android Wear and Apple Watch, promise to deliver relevant information at appropriate moments, without any interaction with a browser at all.

Sergio Nouvel identifies this change as “a shift from web pages to web services: self-sufficient bits of information that can be combined to other services to deliver value”. The logical conclusion to this is that the browser may disappear almost entirely in the future, as the information we require from it is capable of being displayed by other means. But in the meantime, it’s useful to look at how browsers are adapting to these changes.

The Changing Form of the Web Browser.

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