Recently I had two interactions that got me thinking on how the “web” is changing. The first is I downloaded the September 2010 edition of Wired magazine on my iPad (to test the much talked about iPad app for Wired of course) and the scintillating headline caught my eye – “The Web is Dead: Long Live the Internet.” It was an interesting article describing how the usage patterns on the web is dramatically changing from a browsing paradigm to an application oriented one. Secondly, I had an interesting exchange with a Forrester analyst and we got into discussion around the usage patterns changing with the advent of smart phones, tablets and other hand held devices. Again the discussion veered towards the amazing rise of mobile and hand held devices over the last few years and how applications for these devices are fundamentally changing how we use the Internet.
Up to a couple of years back most of the traffic on the internet would have been HTTP (browsing) and we jumped from site to site in pursuit of content and interests. Change started happening with the launch of the iPhone, iTouch, iPad (almost $120Mn users in the first 3 years); Android came as a challenger and has been gaining ground; there has been an amazing rise of rich media via Youtube, Hulu and Netflix and of course the phenomenal and increasing time we have been spending on Facebook (which now gets more page views than Google) and Twitter; interacting, playing and devouring content.
As per a Morgan Stanley study, Streaming video accounts for ~37% of Internet traffic during peak TV hours. In North America, where many operators have invested in 3G networks (and now a move is afoot towards 4G), mobile video accounts for ~41% of peak hour traffic up from 27% just 10 months back. Many of you would have heard the “streaming only” option from Netflix (for $7.99/month) and how Comcast has demanded a “toll” from Level 3 which is a Netflix partner due to the high usage of bandwidth from video.
What is fundamentally afoot is a shift in our behavior as it pertains to the Internet. The World Wide Web (web for short) was thought of a series of interlinked document and we “browsed” the web going from link to link. Today we are starting to use the Internet more as a messaging backbone and using targeted applications or sites to accomplish “tasks” of interest or spend time on our favorite activity; watching a movie, tweeting, checking on friends, updating the status on a social media site, checking in at foursquare, checking the news etc. With the screen size (and our attention span) shrinking, we are launching specific applications, consuming the content or performing an activity and then moving on. Users of Facebook or Twitter may spend hours within those environments. Similarly a typical web user may only interact with 10-12 sites on a given day. The Rockmelt browser, which was recently launched as beta, is fundamentally built on this premise. It brings together many aspects of social media, search, news, video and frequently visited sites under one umbrella.
This changing reality is not lost on investors. A PE investment of $150 Mn recently puts Twitter’s valuation at $3.7Bn which is higher than the NY Times company. Similarly Netflix has just been added to the S&P 500 index as a forecaster of the market – ironically replacing NY Times.
So what does all of this mean to our privacy (web browsing used to be a fundamentally “private” activity)? If our interactions are becoming limited and with a few applications/sites does it mean that these sites/apps can start tracking our every move and start building a mega-profile about us? Maybe they already are (scary thought isn’t it). What about search; is it still the “killer app” or is there something else lurking to replace it. More on this on my next blog ….