A little over a decade ago, I had made a shift in my career. I’d moved from technology to writing. Writing on technology, because the love of technology has stayed through the years. Speaking of writing, the place to be was print media back then. The joy of seeing your name printed in a magazine stays with you. For good or for bad, it stays. If you make a blunder, it stays to haunt you. If you’ve done a piece that moves people, then you’re remembered as well.

The rise of digital

Move forward a few years, and we all experienced the global financial meltdown of 2008. The unfortunate financial event also turned out to be a blessing in disguise for the world of digital marketing. The first shift from print and mainline media to digital media was a result of circumstances. Since spending was getting precious, return on investment as a measurable quantity gained momentum. Only digital media allowed for the flexibility in spending, transparent reporting and a steady yet scalable stream of revenue. Certainly, digital didn’t emerge in 2008, but it definitely got a new lease of life post 2008.

Since then, the choice was clear. To stay relevant and to grow with the curve it was essential to adapt the online space. Websites have existed for years before that, but didn’t quite come across as a dependable or permanent model of communication.

Interestingly, I also recall a chance interaction I happened to have with Håkon Wium Lie, who is CTO of Opera Software. More interestingly, though, he’s known as the father of CSS. Cascading Style Sheets is a component of web technology that allows designers to add visual elements to websites they create. Essentially, web technologies revolve around HTML, CSS and JavaScript.

Håkon-Wium-Lie-2009-03
Håkon-Wium-Lie, CTO, Opera

In layman terms, HTML gives the content some order. CSS adds in styling, be it visual, weight of text, spacing between lines, colour, and icons. JavaScript brings in logic and intelligence in the way we interact with websites. I still remember the thought expressed by Lie. He said the internet would have as much impact on mankind as Gutenberg’s printing press did. It’s enough to cause a revolution. A renaissance of sorts. CSS has evolved to such an extent that browsers can accomplish tasks that were earlier restricted to applications.

Browsers can do so much more!

Remember Firefox OS? That was a whole smartphone platform that resided on a browser. If a browser can power a smartphone, access cameras, sensors, and handle multimedia content enough for a smartphone, and if smartphones are the future, then how could browsers not be the future? This had been the subject of a vocal discussion among developers over the past few years.

Native or cross-platform was a favourite conversation starter among the developer community as well. Especially those who specialised in web technologies. That’s the time when applications were emerging. Now most of these experiences are driven irrespective of platform.

Going app-only

For some unexplained reason, a few services such as Myntra and to an extent Flipkart decided to go app-only and ditch websites. Remember those days? They ignored customer outcry online, and just go ahead with they felt was right. We wrote quite a few articles here on our thoughts on why that was a suicidal move. And then came a moment of truth when they were forced to reverse the decision to go app-only.

The obsession with apps

This new found obsession with applications isn’t necessarily customer outreach and engagement. Being able to download an app could be enriching yet disappointing at the same time. This dichotomy between applications and websites isn’t a new one. Each time someone has made a prophetic call to the developer community, or anyone prominent has gone ahead and said that websites are dying stands the risk of being labelled a hypocrite.

This morning I read reports that the Director of Product Design at Facebook, Jon Lax said websites were a done thing. In nearly the same words. That’s when I thought to myself for years have people written off the web and the need for websites. Yet they exist. If the Director of Product Design at Facebook (sounds pretty important) says that the need for websites is going down, does that mean facebook.com is about to cease to exist?

Could we expect an app only Facebook? That would be pretty amusing. It’d need a great deal of conviction, and being a step ahead of analytical trends to take a decision as drastic as that.

One interface. One experience.

The need of the day is one unifying experience across devices and form factors. That is the latest cliche of the developer world. It began with fancy names such as responsive design and adaptability. But in the world of brand communications, it’s clear. Products need to offer a consistent experience across screens, devices and interfaces.

If the ones speaking cannot take the decision to abide by it, there’s no point in making tall claims. The fact is everyone’s learning. The developer community is learning and adapting. So are capabilities growing. Somewhere in between lies a sweet spot. And to each his/her own. Where should the priority lie? On customer experience? On earning profit? Or be aligned with trends? Either way, the three point towards being present in a consistent manner before your customer.

Once the ideas cools off, we should see a closer connect between apps and web interfaces. Till then, websites are here to stay. Besides, 16GB phones aren’t the best market to target applications. Companies such as Facebook are already notorious to spin off every new feature into a separate app. One for Photos, another for Pages, a third one for Groups. I wonder if we’re heading towards a day where Likes and Facebook Checkins would be another app (read Facebook Foursquare).

Publish date: May 31, 2016 2:15 pm| Modified date: May 31, 2016 2:30 pm

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