The state of the web

subconscious.substack.com
7 min read
fairly easy
What's next for the web? I've spent a good chunk of my career trying to answer this question in practice, making the web do things it maybe shouldn't… stuff like mobile operating systems, and VR. I'm tackling the question in 3 parts: In part 1, "Why did the web take over desktop and not mobile?
What's next for the web? I've spent a good chunk of my career trying to answer this question in practice, making the web do things it maybe shouldn't… stuff like mobile operating systems, and VR.

I'm tackling the question in 3 parts:

In part 1, "Why did the web take over desktop and not mobile?", I looked at the history of the web, why it disrupted desktop computing, why mobile computing disrupted it.

In part 2, I'm looking at the web today.

In part 3, I'll look at possible disruptive shifts on the horizon.

You are here

Let's check in on the web in 2021.

The diseases of old age.

Technologies develop along an s-curve, and are adopted along an s-curve. Growth slows as a technology's ecosystem reaches maturity and saturates natural limits. This gives late-stage ecosystems a characteristic flavor:

Attitudes shift from positive-sum to zero-sum, reflecting the end of growth.

The ecosystem consolidates, as each actor attempts to increase their slice of a fixed pie.

The old growth (e.g. big tech) soaks up most of the sunlight. It becomes difficult for new growth to gain a foothold.

Large amounts of dead brush (e.g. "accept cookies" banners) accumulate.

Parasites (e.g. Taboola) become endemic.

Consolidated systems are fragile, so late-stage ecosystems are prone to collapse. But something more interesting often happens instead…

Something with an asymmetric survival strategy enters the scene. It makes a radically different set of tradeoffs. This changes the basis of competition, disrupting the existing ecosystem, and unlocking a totally new basis of growth.

Usually this asymmetric strategy is unlocked by a new technology. Occasionally, an existing technology is so flexible that it is repurposed for its own disruption. We could think of such a technology as evolvable, because it can adapt in response to selection pressures.

To the extent that the web has been difficult to kill, it is because it is evolvable. The web started as a way for scientists to share…
Gordon Brander
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