The Web Is Dead … But the Zombie Web Walks

Listen. I need you to sit down. No, seriously, you'll want to be sitting when I tell you this. You know that mysterious decomposition we've been trying to cover up with the Febreze? Chris Anderson and Michael Wolff over at Wired figured out what it is, and ... well ... it's the World Wide Web.

Yes, I understand. You're looking at the World Wide Web right now, and it seems very much alive. But according to Wired's click-magnet headline, "The Web is dead. Long live the Internet," it is, if anything, among the undead — walking the Internet in a torturous limbo as we forsake it for streamlined applications as media barons herd us into centralized access points that suck the very life from the once-revolutionary system of linked documents.

Or not.

Declare something dead and you're guaranteed to grab attention. Declare something dead that people have come to believe their very life depends on, and include a lovely neon graph to support your assertion and OH NOES! Still — even if the Web isn't what it once was (and what technology is?), Wired's obituary should not be confused with an official death certificate.

To get what I'm saying, let's review. The Internet and the World Wide Web are often used interchangeably, but they're two totally different things. The Web is that above-mentioned system of Web pages connected by links that lives on the Internet, a system of interconnected computer networks.

When you access Twitter, instant messages, iTunes, etc., through applications on your cell phone or computer, you're on the Internet, but you're not accessing the World Wide Web. Got it?

Here's the thing. Say someone you follow on Twitter tweets a YouTube link to a video of a porcupine that behaves like a happy puppy and you click that link (because how could you not?), you immediately enter the World Wide Web.

Now consider how many times that video of a porcupine behaving like a puppy is tweeted and retweeted, as well as posted and shared on another Web-ish hangout like Facebook, not to mention the huge chunk of Web bandwidth that video sucks up in general.

Meanwhile, Wired's Cisco graph illustrating the "proportion of total U.S. Internet traffic" (instead of the "actual total," as Rob Beschizza wisely observes at Boing Boing) is more pretty than it is informative. Tracking Internet usage between 1990 and 2010, it doesn't budget for the increase in Internet traffic, from the days when comparatively few people had computers, much less broadband, to today when people commonly have both.

Further, the graph doesn’t budget for how that porcupine video sucks up bandwidth -- even though it's sucking up only a few minutes of your Web time.  Meanwhile, the hours you spend following links and reading science stuff about porcupine behavior accounts for only a tiny fraction of the bandwidth. Not to mention, many videos — featuring porcupines or otherwise — live on the Web. I won't even get into nearly non-existence of e-mail in the graph — which apparently we don't use anymore — or DNS, the bandwidth-thrifty code that ferries Web traffic around.

To be sure, fragmentation caused by streamlined applications that get us immediately to our Internet destinations exists. And let's not forget about Facebook — that once-closed ecosystem that's evolved into a portal we increasingly turn to for our e-mail and porcupine videos, eliminating the need to travel the Web for similar services.

Growth in one area of the booming Internet doesn't necessitate the death of something else. I, for one, don't want to live in a world where accessing a single Wikipedia entry on porcupines doesn't lead to hours spent following a seemingly non-sequiturous route of hyperlinks across the Internet that leads you eventually to valuable information like how to live amicably with the walking dead. And fortunately I don't have to.

Follow Helen A.S. Popkin on Twitter, or just friend her on Facebook  — while there's still time!

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