Apple's Tablet and the New Splintered Web

Tablets, iPhones, Kindles, Android, Connected TVs: How to Survive in the New World of Proprietary Devices

By Published on .

Josh Bernoff
Josh Bernoff
As we all gird for the launch of the Apple Tablet, take a moment to step back and realize what all these new devices are doing. 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.

Meanwhile, more and more of the interesting stuff on the web is hidden behind a log-in 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 log-in.

Web marketing has grown since 1995, based on the idea that everything is connected. Click-throughs, ad networks, analytics, search-engine optimization -- it all works because the web is standardized. Google works because the web is standardized.

Not any more. Each new device has its own ad networks, format and technology. Each new social site has its log-in and many hide content from search engines.

We call this new world the Splinternet (with a nod to Doc Searls and Rich Tehrani, who used the term before us with a somewhat different meaning). It will splinter the web as a unified system. The golden age has lasted 15 years. Like all golden ages, it lasted so long we thought it would last forever. But the end is in sight.

Here's what not to do: panic and try to unify things again. The shattering cannot be undone.

Here's what to do: choose your devices carefully -- investments in one cannot be transferred easily to others if you make a mistake. Rethink analytics, links and measurement -- they're just becoming available in the new environments. Promote the new channels -- SEO won't help you so much here. Platforms like iPhone apps and Facebook are some of the most exciting new channels out there. Just realize that you're leaving the comfy environment of the web behind -- along with all the tools you've grown dependent on -- as you embrace the new platforms.

UPDATE: Since there's been so much commentary here I've put together a follow-up to further explain The Splinternet over at the Groundswell blog, "Proof the Splinternet is Real".

Josh Bernoff is co-author of "Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies," a comprehensive analysis of corporate strategy for dealing with social technologies such as blogs, social networks and wikis, and is a VP-principal analyst at Forrester Research. He blogs at
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