Gary Kim has an interesting piece over on TechZone 360 on the new term that has been making the rounds to describe the evolution underway on the internet: “Splinternet”. With the iPad, the Kindle, all sorts of smartphones and whatever new devices 2011 brings, each with their own app stores, limitations, and walled gardens, effectively marketing to the world is rapidly becoming a lot more complicated than buying a few Adwords impressions from Google. I have to say, I love the term Splinternet, it’s very descriptive. However, I take issue with the idea that it’s entirely a new thing and I think it sounds too negative – something other commentators are saying explicitly. For example, when Gary wrote:
“In a growing number of cases, user experiences will occur behind log-in walls that create semi-hidden or fully-hidden experiences unavailable to software from outside the walled gardens.”
I flashed back to a time not so long ago when many millions of Americans logged on to the internet through a proprietary log-in wall with semi-hidden or fully-hidden experiences that other users couldn’t see. Its success was also linked to a particular access technology, and had its own ecosystem. We called it AOL, and of course it no longer really exists in that form because the modem became obsolete. But AOL was a great innovation that dragged the internet with it for many years. Long before the modem was fully replaced by broadband, most of the interface innovations introduced by AOL had already been copied by Yahoo and other portals that weren’t tied to the access technology.
My point is that the unique features of highly popular ways to access the internet have caused splintering in the past and probably always will. Splintering is not necessarily bad, and homogeneity isn’t necessarily good. Isolation allows new ideas to be tested and refined, eventually to be copied in the mainstream. Think of it as the theory of evolution as applied to the various internet ‘species’. If a group becomes isolated from the mainstream, they may evolve different technologies and interfaces that when added back to the whole will enrich the whole thing. Things that work out great on the iPad or a smartphone or wherever will make their way into other technologies.
The key is that the internet that anchors the system remains open, flexible, wild, and uncontrollable. Access technologies are currently driving a great deal of innovation, but none of them could exist without the lifeblood of that connectivity. So bring on the splinters. They add to the system even when they seem to take away some capabilities – it will all work out in the end. Those walls around the garden aren’t really effective barriers, it’s like trying to fence in bees with chain link. The only way they’ll stay inside is if that’s where the best flowers are, and the moment that’s not true…
But it’s definitely true that the task enterprises face in marketing themselves and their products on the internet is going to get more difficult again. Really, the entire marketing industry was spoiled rotten by Google, which made web advertising so simple, obvious, and universal. A more complicated world was inevitable.
So yeah, it’s going to be chaotic — but if it weren’t, it wouldn’t be the internet. Have we all gone so soft that we want this great roaring beast we’ve been riding for two decades to slow down and be predictable? The end of the internet as we know it happens every single year, and if that ever stops then we’re definitely in trouble.
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