The internet is growing up. And with that, a cottage industry of web developers and coders was born. While it isn’t universal yet that everyone has a web site, many people do have outposts online, whether it’s a web site, blog or social profile.

But just as websites become more common, questions are being raised about their long-term future.

Earlier this week I was asked by Paul Armstrong, Director of Social Media at London-based Kindred Agency, what my thoughts are on the future of websites for his PR Week blog. Here’s my reply:

I think web sites will, over the longer period (10-20 years), become more niche. If the app ecosystem pans out, we’ll see more dynamic apps being developed for mobile platforms that contain much the same content as a website. Your uses for a website may become more limited, dependent upon the business you’re in. Ultimately you want to position your digital presence where it is more likely to be seen by more people, or the largest chunk of your target market.

If your target market primarily uses their mobile devices to search the web, then that’s where you will primarily want to be. Sure, you’ll have a WWW site, but it might just be a placeholder, with a link to where you can download the app.

Since writing that reply, I’ve had more time to think about the question. Admittedly it’s one I hadn’t given much thought to prior to Paul’s asking me about it. But given that the app ecosystem is developing rapidly, and going mainstream much quicker than web sites did, it begs the question: What’s the future of websites? A dam is going to break, a shift will occur (which is already happening) and the preferred platform will become more fractured and need-based. 

As platforms diversify, there is more choice in where to spend your marketing budget to ensure that you get the best return from the people you are trying to reach. Right now that’s (mostly) from websites, social media and community management. But what about five years from now? 

Marketers, PRs and community managers have come to realize, often sooner than their clients, that there is more value in targeting a specific audience than throwing a large net and grabbing everyone you can. What this means is you won’t have 1 million followers, instead you’ll have 200,000 dedicated, core-customers.

Through careful research of your target market, you’ll learn what platforms they prefer. If they’re primarily web users, then put your marketing budget into the web development. But if they use mobile to access news and information, consider hiring an app developer. You can do both, but this way you have both bases covered.

I moved to Jacksonville, Florida in March. Since then I’ve had the opportunity to meet with some of the professionals working in agency-side social media.

I wanted another voice on this topic, so I asked Aliera Peterson, a social media specialist at Jacksonville-based advertising and PR agency Brunet | Garcia, to give her thoughts on the future of web sites:

Much as I’d like to say I’ve got a crystal ball tucked away to sort out the pesky business of predicting the future, unfortunately, I’ve only got history and my slice of the present for a guide. Those limitations notwithstanding, websites have been an interesting phenomena to observe, watching text-based sites transform with the addition of images, animated .gifs, then flash. And they continue to evolve, their future inherently tied to the desires of the people who access them.

So what’s the next logical step in the evolutionary chain?

Mobility. 

We’re already going there with mobile apps allowing us to digest in somewhat manageable chunks that information we can’t seem to live without.

If they are to survive, websites will have to adapt to a format that allows users constant access to fresh, personally relevant information in keeping with their ever-on-the-go lifestyles. With the age of the e-readers upon us, desktops and laptops may very well be on the way out indefinitely.

Already, people are accessing the internet and email in record numbers from their mobile devices leading some professionals to feel that bringing their laptop on a business trip is a redundancy. One shudders to think what will happen if they truly develop (and users demand) a mobile implant. 

Aliera and I are in agreement that the future of web sites and mobile development will become more needs/demand-based. If, in five years, your client’s targeted users are major mobile users, that tells you that the demand will likely be in mobile development.

As we’ve seen with mobile apps developed by news organizations for phones and readers, these apps can be dynamic. Since you own the infrastructure of the app, you can make whatever changes you need and your target audience can carry your app with them wherever they go. As a bonus, you could encode a PUSH notification feature into your app. Whenever something news is posted to your app, a notice is sent to the user. 

Websites will continue to exist and to be useful, but I suspect that over time the ways in which they are used will change drastically. Your website may become the archive, but your app will be the place where people get the most recent and updated information about your brand or product. 

Photo credit: alykat on Flickr