Killed off by apps, death of the web – is the open web dead?

Here’s a question and it is serious: is the web dead? Are mobile apps and Apple iPad apps about to supplant the vast untamed stretches of open and free content with a wide variety of subscription based services?

According to a piece on Valleywag, Wired’s editor and his team might be preparing a front page cover story that is to declare just this: “the Web is Dead”. RIP, we just couldn’t make the thing pay.

Some are going to find such a Wired cover a little strange. Anderson, after all, is a technological utopian and the magazine he leads has been THE magazine of this whole online revolution, but then again maybe it isn’t that strange. If you pause for a moment to take it all in it is becoming apparent that the web is changing all around us and it is changing quite quickly.

The arrival of paywalls, mobile apps, the Apple iPad and the imminent arrival of other tablet devices not unlike a horde of Visigoths laying waste to all that is free. It’s like 410 AD all over again.

Valleywag says that Anderson is to argue “that more tightly controlled corners of the internet, especially iPad and iPhone apps, are gradually supplanting the open web as means of publishing and online networking”.

Talk of this Wired cover comes as publishers invest more and time in these apps. Yesterday, the New York Times announced its Press Engine venture that is seeing it create a new platform for mobile devices that it is licensing to rival publishers to build new subscription services.

Last week it was reported that News Corporation was seriously considering establishing a unit to create subscription-based content for applications on digital tablet devices such as the Apple iPad.

There is no doubt that Anderson has championed tablets and iPad devices very much in the spirit of utopianism.

When Wired launched its iPad app, Anderson said that the iPad and the tablet more generally represented “a grand experiment in the future of media” and that Wired planned to offer a variety of versions and “ways to subscribe in digital form”.

Anderson is much less glowing about the web and Wired’s place on it in particular. In June local newspaper, the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, reported a talk that Anderson gave around Wired’s $4.99 iPad app, which sold 80,000 copies in 10 days.

He said that reading Wired on a tablet is fundamentally different than going to Wired.com, which he said looks like many media websites and “carries little content from the magazine”.

He added that while reading any magazine is supposed to be an immersive experience, with the design and long pieces keeping readers’ attentions for prolonged sittings, none of those aspects translates well to the web.

More damningly, he said: “Long-form journalism becomes 16 pages you have to click through. So like everybody else, we flail on the web.”

If you’ve seen an iPad or watched a demo of how a magazine article works on such a device then you already know how well it can function.

All this adds to the feeling that publishers are on the cusp of a fundamental reshaping of their digital strategy and that the world is separating between those who are forging forward on the free and open web and those who are looking to the world of apps and elsewhere where the new mantra is “subscription based services”.

For magazine publishers and many newspapers there is a clear attraction in that consumers are willing to pay for content in that form.

When you start to add up all the app based ventures in the works you start to feel, taking a look over shoulder, that a change is coming and that the web as it looks right now will not look like this for much longer.