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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

Ben LaMothe

Published 16 April, 2010 by Ben LaMothe

Ben LaMothe is a web & social media strategist with Florida-based advertising and marketing consultancy Renaissance Creative. You can follow him on Twitter.

22 more posts from this author

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Matthew Curry

Matthew Curry, Head of Ecommerce at Lovehoney

I see it in a similar, but different way. Websites will just become another front end to the actual product, the API. So whatever medium people consume your service, they still transact with a central API that contains your data and business logic.

For all we know, the concept of "mobile" will mean something very different in 10 years time. Apps could be developed to purely contain logic, and be finely granular, abstracted to the point that they bring high-end rich "objects" to the consumer to access, join and interact with as the need fits.

We are already seeing this in certain sectors, such as real estate & travel, so it's not a huge leap of faith to see it applied to other sectors.

over 6 years ago

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Mike Georgeson

The web changes constantly which why we all love it so much and I believe websites as one element of the web will become less important in terms of being a 'shop window' and more important in terms of signposting customers to their other online presences.

I wrote an article on our blog in which I allude to the fact that Social Capital will increasingly play an important part in how we are perceived by our existing and potential customers.

Shameless plug but you can take a look at it here - http://www.netdesk.co.uk/2010/03/10/websites-are-no-longer-required/


Enjoy the chaos!

Mike

over 6 years ago

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maps4pets

What this means is you won't have 1 million followers, instead you'll have 200,000 dedicated, core-customers. Like this bit, so just retweeted it. Great article, always look forward to your posts.

over 6 years ago

Ben LaMothe

Ben LaMothe, Web & Social Media Strategist at Renaissance Creative

Hi Matthew,

I'm inclined to agree with you. What exactly 'mobile' will mean in 10 years is actually up for discussion. Maybe we won't be making the distinction and mobile will be the default platform for day-to-day business. Or it could be relegated to niche tasks and industries.

At some point, the nay-sayers will retire and the people who aren't put-off by upheaving an entire industry in search of the future, will be running things. I think we're only at the tip of industry change that we will see, caused by the internet and mobile applications.

over 6 years ago

Rob Mclaughlin

Rob Mclaughlin, VP, Digital Analytics at Barclays

Ben - Great topic I'm inclined to think we will see the triumph of content over medium and platform. Isn't how we consume media hyper personal? Websites,mobile, apps etc are just more options for content delivery for us to choose to add to our personal 'feed' of media. Maybe we will see media becoming more agnostic ie. who wants a mobile site or app when you can access the full version on the go anyway?

over 6 years ago

Ben LaMothe

Ben LaMothe, Web & Social Media Strategist at Renaissance Creative

Rob -

I agree. I think apps offer many more options for content personalization. The user has more control over the infrastructure that the content is displayed in, and can personalize the settings according to what they do and do-not want to see.

I agree with this, too:

" who wants a mobile site or app when you can access the full version on the go anyway?"

At some point the choice will become less either/or and more this-not-that. I suspect that in five to seven years time, mobiles will become even more ubiquitous and price points will become lower. 

When that happens, the content that people read on those newly-cheap phones will need to conform to the consumer's medium and platform of choice. That's when the real sea-change will happen.

over 6 years ago

Vincent Amari

Vincent Amari, Online Consultancy at Business Foresights Ltd

I suggest that websites will not be surpassed by apps, but merely evolve so as we can access them with any device we wish to use.

With developments like this growing fast, are we seeing the decline of the App store already?!

Also consider if this was not the case, how many apps would users need to install if that were the only way to access any information or business?!! It simply doesn't seem plausible to me.

As to achieving dedicated users/followers rather than casting a wide net, this is being addressed with both continuous improvements in search engine technology and the developments around the 'semantic web'.

Yes, the platform(s) people are increasingly using are mobile in nature, so desktop PC's connected to the electricity mains are very likely to become extinct in 5-10 years. But 'mobile' also includes laptops, netbooks, iPad and other PC 'slabs', not just phones.

"position your digital presence where it is more likely to be seen by more people" Fully agree. That statement (omitting the word 'digital') has held true even before the Internet was ever imagined, let alone built.

From that, you also need to consider another platform - TV.

The first TV's with Internet connectivity built-in have started to appear, so depending on your target audience, that may well be the preferred platform rather than a mobile device. At a guess that would affect most, if not all, B2C models. It will also push usage of sites like YouTube into the stratosphere, leading to all TV content to be delivered via the Internet rather than ariels and satelite.

Finally there are 2 more issues to consider; annonimity and security. Unless those offering dedicated apps change the way users can access to install them. Most users prefer to browse for information without having to register their details every time. For security, consider that most of us would not install an app onto our hardware, mobile or otherwise, from just anyone. So although there are compelling reasons to install apps from say your bank, grocery store, social network etc. I can't see people installing apps from every source of information.

In conclusion, it would be almost implying that the Internet will no longer be needed!

over 6 years ago

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