The Web as Platforms?

If Web 2.0 is the web as platform, then what comes next? I fear that the answer is: the web as platforms. Posts today at TechCrunch and at GigaOm explain the problem, and suggest solutions.

At TC, Nic strikes an optimistic note. He points out that technologies such as AIR, BrowserPlus, and Gears share the worthy aim of allowing “a new generation of web applications with better performance, more functionality and tighter desktop integration.” He sees “an opportunity to not repeat the mistakes of the past and instead take a standards-based approach.”

Those mistakes were embodied in web sites that advised us that they were best viewed some specific version of Internet Explorer, and at some specific screen resolution. The 2009 version of this mistake might manifest itself in sites that declare: we need Gears to work properly, and don’t even think about trying to view us on a phone. Yes, the phones complicate things yet further, but let’s not get into that now.

Stacey at GO is less optimistic than Nic at TC. I’ll quote her extensively, because she does exasperation well, and provides another candidate term for what comes after the web as platform.

I have copies of Air, Gears and BrowserPlus on my machine, and each have their pros and their cons. Air essentially brings the browser offline, while BrowserPlus runs outside of the browser to make your desktop an extension of the web. Gears runs inside the browser, making Firefox even more unstable, but does make my web browsing faster…

It’s my job to play around with these sites, but I can’t imagine the average user wanting to download three or four different programs in order to optimize their browsing experience. I still get irritated about upgrading Flash…

Skylar Woodward, a software engineer at Yahoo… thinks eventually some of the code behind these efforts will be opened up to the community, making it easier for developers to implement multiple platforms on their sites. In the meantime, he champions the idea of “graceful degradation.” In that scenario, a user can see the site without downloading a platform, he just might miss out on a few nifty features in the process.

So for those of you too lazy to click through on those installs, welcome to the gracefully degraded Internet.

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