Rise in Proprietary Mobile Apps Threatens to Send Web Back to Early Days

Posted on February 11th, 2016

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Image: TelecomsTech

In the mid-nineties, web browsing was still a fledgling phase, where best practices and standards had not yet been firmly established. Two web browsers dominated the industry: Netscape Navigator and Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. These two software behemoths adopted a “take no prisoners” approach, incorporating an increasing number of proprietary features to lure users and capture market share.

The proliferation of these proprietary features was reviled by web developers, who were forced to create two different versions of their web pages to accommodate the functionality of Netscape and one for Internet Explorer to ensure usability. The only alternatives to code customization was to create feature-poor sites that could be consistently rendered by both browsers or to build a site that was tailored to work with the proprietary features of just one browser. Neither of these alternative approaches were ideal for attracting and retaining a maximum number of internet users. Over time and especially as more browsers emerged, the industry began to realize that this was not the way to promote the growth of the web.

In October of 1994, HTML inventor and father of the web Tim Berners-Lee threw his considerable drive and vision into the forming of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C, an affirming signatory of the OpenStand Principles. The W3C expressed its vision to “standardise the protocols and technologies used to build the web such that the content would be available to as wide a population of the world as possible.”

While the effect wasn’t immediate, the W3C and organizations like it began to have a palpable influence on web development and by the early 2000’s web standards had truly begun to shape the web landscape. In time, web composed of predominantly W3C standards-compliant browsers and emerged, broadening access to content to an expanding global audience. Today, some of the biggest and most recognizable names in technology follow W3C standards in their applications, including Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, Twitter, Google, and a host of others.

With all the advancement of the standardized web, should one would assume the days of proprietary-driven web applications and platform-specific web development are over? Perhaps not.  

In a previous OpenStand blog post we discussed the increasing amount of Internet traffic that is coming, not from W3C compliant browsers, but from platform-discriminating mobile apps. Today, most mobile apps are developed for only a handful of platforms, resulting in an emerging internet of islands. This has prompted some to fear that the dream of of open, standardized web is starting to slip away.

Social media juggernaut Facebook has launched the Internet.org project to address the dangers of a proprietary and non-standardized web. This has been met by significant criticism. Supporters of the Internet.org project claim that its detractors seek to control much of what Internet users are able to see and do on the web. This “walled garden” approach to web access runs afoul of the hopes of open web advocates the world over, including W3C founder, Tim Berners-Lee, himself.

Though the advance of proprietary-driven mobile applications may indeed be cause for some concern, the promising development model of web apps could serve as a useful antidote. Web apps afford users the customizable utility of conventional mobile apps while allowing the open type of web that innovators like Berners-Lee originally envisioned to flourish. Through the development and promotion of open web standards, we can preserve the dream of an open web.

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