Why Does Everyone Keep Saying The Web is Dead?

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At a VentureBeat Mobile Summit last night, Square COO Keith Rabois declared “the website as you know it” to be “dead.”

His justification? The “rise of mobile,” and how users are more likely to gravitate towards a smartphone’s apps as opposed to a site’s mobile version. Simply put, a website is “not going to feel as good as a native experience.” Business Insider points to Rabois’ example of Yelp, in which app users comprise only one for every 10 on the website, while accounting for 33% of its original searches.

In fact, his sentiment echoes that of Wired Editor-in-Chief Chris Anderson, who trumpeted the inevitability of the Web’s decline in last year’s declarative essay, The Web is dead. “The Web is not the culmination of the digital revolution,” he argued. “Much as we love freedom and choice, we also love things that just work, reliably and seamlessly. And if we have to pay for what we love, well, that increasingly seems OK. Have you looked at your cell phone or cable bill lately?”

In Japan, for instance, where the proliferation of mobile media is attested to by 75% of the country’s 100 million mobile subscribers, the idea that the Internet will one day be dominated by smartphones may be approaching faster than you’d think. Take, for example, Internet usage statistics in the wake of last month’s earthquakes: mobile penetration in Japan skyrocketed (remember all the photos and videos?), with mobile traffic ratios surpassing even those of its PC-based brethren.

Why is this? At the moment, building an app requires the allocation of more resources and brainpower. More cumulative thought is poured into streamlining the user experience. On the Web, anyone with free time and an email address can throw up a WordPress blog, adding still more digital laundry to the pile of cyber-clutter. With app stores and ratings, there’s a democratic threshold for quality.

In my talk with Kiip’s Brian Wong, he told me, “When you hold a device in your hand, it becomes an emotional part of you. That’s the reason why social is so important right now; it’s because you know that the thing that you’re talking to at the end of that funnel is a human being.” And to an extent — at least in terms of what apps like Color or Instagram are trying to do — he’s right.

But there are dangers. With apps, we’re placing a heavy stake in store curators like Apple (and even “open sourced” stores run by Google or Amazon), trusting that they’ll channel us toward the apps we need. With the free-for-all that defines the Web, that isn’t the case, and hasn’t been for a long time.

To be clear, the Web will never die, it’ll just go the way of snail mail or vinyl records. Instead of being a primary means of engaging the Internet, I suspect it’ll simply augment our experience in much the same way letter writing has become an alternative way to communicate — while it’s no longer a primary channel for communication, paper letter-writing offers a kind of interaction with its own, intrinsic value.

One thing seems certain: while it’s premature to lament the death of the Web, it’s never too early to be ahead of the curve, investigating and considering whatever’s next.

More on TIME.com:

That Royal Wedding Thing Might Crash the Internet

Why Saying Apple Will Never Do Something is Always Dangerous

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