Facilitating the Spread of Knowledge and Innovation in Professional Software Development

Write for InfoQ


Choose your language

InfoQ Homepage News Debate: Is the Internet Splintering in Pieces?

Debate: Is the Internet Splintering in Pieces?

Leia em Português

This item in japanese

The Internet has been considered the medium that unites people all over the world facilitating communication, exchange of ideas and easing the access to information. Some consider that the Internet is departing from its original purpose due to the proliferation of devices which make porting of documents to various platforms difficult.

The term Splinternet was mentioned probably for the first time in 2008 by Rich Tehrani, CEO of Technology Marketing Corporation, a VoIP specialized magazine. Tehrani remarked that the Internet has the power to disrupt long established businesses due to the rise of social networks.

Josh Bernoff, Senior VP at Forrester Research, re-introduces the Splinternet idea, observing that today it is much more difficult for companies and marketers to create portable content that works on all sorts of new devices appearing almost every day:

The whole framework of the Web (and Web marketing) is based around the idea that everything is in a compatible format. Any browser, any computer, any connection, you see pretty much the same thing.

Now with iPhones, Androids, Kindles, Tablets, and TVs connecting to the Web, that's not true. Your site may not work right on these devices, especially if it includes flash or assumes mouse-based navigation. Apps that work on the iPhone don't work on the Android. Widgets for FiOS TV don't work anywhere else.

Bernoff also mentions the fact that a lot of content is password protected, which is a departure from the information-sharing vision:

Meanwhile, more and more of the interesting stuff on the Web is hidden behind a login and password. Take Facebook for example. Not only do its applications not work anywhere else, Google can't see most of it. And News Corp. and the New York Times are talking about putting more and more content behind a login.

Bernoff does not believe standards will help:

Standards can't create a standard experience. Web experiences are going to vary a lot by device. This is a challenge for businesses concerned about those experiences. And for marketers.

His solution would be “technologies flexible enough to deliver in these different formats. But these will take a lot of thought on the part of sites -- the decision on how reformat content for different devices is not something that a machine can figure out.”

Some argue with Bernoff that the Internet as a whole is not splintering at all but rather the applications used, as Daniel Millbank remarked:

Reading the article and not all the responses, I don’t see the author making any attempt to separate content, applications or the vehicle that drives much of it today, the Web. I am confused? Do I understand your article correctly? I thought the ‘splinternet’ principle applies to applications on web-enabled devices like iPhones, Blackberry's, iPods and now iPads and not to the websites who are the content bearers and which are dependent on browsers to display its content. It is apparent, to me at least, that successful web-enabled devices on the market today that use the Internet will most likely run a web standards compliant browser.

Again, I think it is important that we underline the differences here: the browser is the application and it interprets the website. If a browser is web standards compliant and a website is built according to web standards, then they'll display just fine... on any device (iPhone, PC, Blackberry, iPad etc.). However, you can't take the application, the browser in this case, and move it from one platform to another, unless you are using Java which supports several platforms. The content itself works everywhere... wasn't that the whole point with XML? 

Katie Hawkey, COO of Astek Consulting LLC, makes the point that the format does not matter but rather the content:

You have to stop thinking of information on the web in terms of layout and look at it in terms of content. You say above "choose your devices carefully -- investments in one cannot be transferred easily to others." This tells me you're thinking about the content on the web like a printed piece that needs to get sent out via direct mail. "Choose your layout carefully - once it's printed as a postcard, it can't be transferred to a brochure format easily."

But it’s not print, it’s web content. You should be thinking of the distribution for web content more as a signal for a radio show. I can listen to you talk to Kai on my car radio, on my transistor radio, home stereo, whatever. Will the sound quality be a little different on each? Yes. Will hearing this story still cause me to yell at my radio? Yes. Why? Because it’s the content that really matters, not the delivery method.

What do you think, is the Internet departing from its original vision? Are the current developments going to foster the access to information or to make it harder?

Rate this Article