It is ironic. Just when the Web is going great guns, just when the post-crash bubble is bubbling, just when Google hits $300 and when Time Warner and Murdoch and Disney have emerged from their collective dalliances and started to create some solid Web content, the browser is so over, so five-minutes ago, so last week.
You have been put on notice : the browser wars are over. Moz doesn’t matter. IE is irrelevant. Opera is doing a swan song. Why ? In a word, iTunes. And the implications for everyone from Web publishers to you, the hyper-clocked tricked-out geek, are enormous. In fact, being the hyper geek means you can cash in on this trend now. You heard it here first.
When I first dabbled in the Web back in the early 90s, I saw what a graphical browsing experience could do and I loved it. Back then we had FTP and gopher, and we thought we were pretty hot stuff. But the Web changed all of that. Now gophers are just back to being the mascot of that college team in Minnesota and nothing more. And the same fate is in store for the Web browser soon and is happening as we speak.
What makes iTunes such a sea change in how we use content is very simple to explain. The newest version allows you to search and download podcasts from Apple’s directory, and in doing so bypasses the Web, email, RSS feeds, and a raft of other software and utilities to search and view content. And it does its work so easily and so effortlessly that you will want to use it to grab all sorts of content from the Internet, even if they aren’t audio programs that you will ever want to run on your iPod.
That is exactly where Apple is heading, and while I have my own love/hate relationship with Apple, what they are doing is pure genius.
It isn’t to say that Apple has it perfectly. The loads they have placed on various servers as podcasts are downloaded left, right and center is enormous. And the tags aren’t universally embraced, or even implemented, by the numerous podcasters popping up all over the world. And the directory isn’t working completely flawlessly - yet.
But these are just technical details. Take a look at how you yourself consume Web content today versus ten or five or even one year ago if you can remember back that far. Bookmarks ? Quaint, who needs bookmarks when we have RSS feeds. RSS feeds ? Don’t need ’em anymore if we can subscribe directly to the iTunes link. Portal sites as your homepage ? Sorry, haven’t had one for years : instead, I go search Google directly from my Firefox toolbar. Firefox ? Won’t need it anymore either. Pages of favorite links that I save on my own personal Web site ? Most haven’t been updated since 1998 anyway.
Back in 1998, it was cool to have desktop and enterprise applications that had Web browsers as their front-end interfaces. But we don’t need no stinking interfaces. We don’t need no browsers. That’s where iTunes comes in handy. You search, you click, you subscribe, you download, you are done.
That is the beauty and wonder of the Web : it continues to be extended and embraced by all sorts of technologies that Tim Berners-Lee never even imagined when he first put together HTML.
Now, you may have yet to listen to your first podcast. You may not even own an iPod or any other music player, and if you do, you may not have downloaded anything other than music tracks on it. Doesn’t matter. In a few years, if Apple is successful, their directory server, their extensions to RSS to include content tags especially for iTunes, their portal if you will - will be the number one destination on the Internet.
Funny, isn’t it ? Microsoft embraces and extends the Internet email protocols and everyone gets their knickers in a twist. Apple does the same with a whole pile of Internet technologies, putting their own proprietary stamp here and there and everyone from Adam Curry down to the lowliest long tail podcaster says "bring it on, Steve, baby, we want more. You rock, we love iTunes." Therein lies an Internet morality tale.
There is a reason why the EU is now looking at why Windows Media Player, rather than IE, is the true leading edge of the Microsoft Monopoly. Too bad Microsoft didn’t lock up the portal market like Apple just did with iTunes and its Music Store. This has nothing to do with playing music or watching videos. It is how we all will be getting our content in the future, coming to a computer near you.