Internet killed the World Wide Web

The September issue of trendy US tech mag Wired is boldly declaring 'The Web is dead'. And based on the figures it has unearthed, it has a point.

That doesn't mean you'll wake up tomorrow to find a blank void in your browser window where Google used to be. What Wired is talking about is the fact that we're spending less time in that part of cyberspace we call the 'World Wide Web' - that is, largely HTML-based graphical 'pages' of information, accessed through a browser. Instead, we're spending more time using other Internet-based resources such as peer-to-peer applications, cloud computing and video.

Wired produced a fairly startling infographic to demonstrate its point - including the revelation that just 23 per cent of time online is now spent surfing pages on the Web.

Smart-arse semantics aside, it's an intriguing statement not only about the way we now spend our time online - but also an insight into the power struggle between different visions of life online should be like.

The World Wide Web, invented in 1991 by Tim Berners-Lee, was - its earliest proponents argued - a window into a newly democratic world of communication. Addresses were dished out by international organisations, policies were reached by consensus, technologies were based on open standards. Nobody owned the Web, they argued, because nobody could - or should.

And now? The ground got privatised under our feet.

The information superhighway is now a world of private roads and walled gardens; semi-detached communities of users tied to a platform for delivery - and, in many instances, for content. Opt for a particular device - be that an Android mobile phone or an Apple iPad - and you buy into a whole eco-system of applications in which the Web plays no part.

The biggest sites on the Web - social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter - are now accessed by an increasing number of users via discrete 'apps' on devices such as iPhones, iPads and Android mobile phones.

Elsewhere, users share gaming experiences via networks such as Xbox Live, stream music using Spotify, or communicate using instant messaging or IP telephony services such as Skype.

And given the recently-announced deal between Google and US mobile provider Verizon, major players are looking to take these mobile or 'outside-the-Web' services beyond the scope of regulation and public debate - leaving us, the consumers, at the mercy of monopolists and most probably out of pocket.

Questions over civil liberties, censorship and other issues rear their heads, too, in a world beyond the Web. One only needs to look at the recent controversies surrounding Apple's censorship of e-book titles for evidence of the power a company wields when it owns the platform and controls the content.

Apple's continuing spat with Adobe over the banning of the software maker's Flash code from Apple devices is another hint of what walled gardens can do for consumer choice.

Wired harks back to a prophecy made in the magazine in 1997 to predict the Web's imminent fate as a quaint museum piece.

"Sure, we'll always have Web pages. We still have postcards and telegrams, don't we?" the article notes. "But the center of interactive media - increasingly, the center of gravity of all media - is moving to a post-HTML environment."

The Web isn't dead - at least, not yet. But what started as a spin-off - a convenient, alternative method of accessing Internet-based content through mobile or non-PC devices - might just be about to steal its soul.