It's Time to Prepare for the End of the Web as We Know It

Steve Rubel on Digital Communications

By Published on .

Steve Rubel
Steve Rubel
Wither the web? It's hard to believe but soon, if not already, the web is going to become a lot less interesting to consumers -- and just as it approaches its 20th birthday.

According to Morgan Stanley, within five years global internet consumption on mobile devices will surpass the same activity on PCs. This sounds like good news. It's natural to think that browsers on the third screen (phones) and the fourth screen (tablets) will simply replace time spent in front of the same on a PC. That's not the case.

Mobile devices, by their nature, force users to become more mission-oriented. As more internet consumption shifts to gadgets, it's increasingly becoming an app world and we just live in it. Innovation, fun, simplicity and single-purpose utility will rule while grandiose design and complexity will fall by the wayside.

It won't be enough just to build branded mobile applications that repurpose content across all of the different platforms. That's like newspapers taking the print experience and replicating it on the web as they tried back in the 1990s. Rather, we will need to rethink, remix and repackage information for an entirely different modality than platforms of yore.

First, let's look at the trends.
1) The canvas. The iPad has been deemed by some a blank slate. When you use any mobile device, you're really only able to do one thing at a time. This means that we become entirely engrossed in whatever we have on the screen. Companies will need to up the ante if they hope to keep users in their fold longer. Development costs will go up, and the economics of content and experiences will look more like Hollywood -- where a few hits deliver enough profit to pay for the dogs -- than Madison Avenue.

2) Content snacking. How often do you consume media meals -- e.g. engage with a unit of media like a newspaper, magazine or film from start to finish in one sitting? My guess is that you do this less than you did 10 years ago. Content snacking rules today. Popular digital metrics, such as time spent, may soon be useless.

3) Infinite choice. It never ceases to amaze me what a single mobile device can hold. Every time I turn on my phone, my finger needs to decide what's more important to me at that time -- friends, work, entertainment, etc. Choice will scale, human attention is finite, and mobile devices put all of this in our pockets. Time is your competition.

To succeed, here are three new behaviors we need to consider:
1) Adoption. Marketing and media has long been about invention. We like to control our own destiny by bringing to bear the best content and experiences we can muster. However, in an app world it's easier to seek out those who have been successful and partner or acquire them. That's the road chosen by Disney with its purchase of Tapulous, and eBay (an Edelman client) with its acquisition of Red Laser.

2) Collaboration. In the mobile world, there's strength in numbers. To fight shrinking attention spans, companies will need to increasingly create partnerships to cut through the noise. Look for applications to pop up that are co-branded and curate content in high-interest verticals.

3) Context. When it comes to mobile, one size doesn't always fit all. Content producers will need to rethink how they package up information and chunk it down. ESPN, for example, is rolling out mobile applications that cater to local markets, in addition to wider offerings that are all things to all people.

Marketers and media companies must adapt to this new construct -- and fast -- or they will get left behind.

Steve Rubel is senior VP-director of insights at Edelman Digital.
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