The Dawn of Divergence


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Reams have been written about the impact of the Apple iPhone on content production and content creation, advising content companies, media firms, and major consumer brands to launch apps to reach a larger (and potentially more affluent) audience. Now, that hint is becoming a business imperative as we witness the birth of a new internet focused on delivering an awesome experience across a plethora of touchscreen devices from dozens of handset makers.

However, all this empowerment comes at a price. We may be excited about the avalanche of apps and content, but we must also cope with the hard reality that one web presence may not be enough. The web used to be standardized, and all content contained in the internet was findable, consumable, and accessible because the internet connected everything. Not any more.
Now, we have fixed, mobile, and touchscreen internets-to name just a few.

Indeed, the outcome of recent platform and device innovation is what Forrester's Josh Bernoff calls the "Splinternet." As Bernoff points out in his blog, "The whole framework of the Web (and Web marketing) is based around the idea that everything is in a compatible format. Any browser, any computer, any connection, you see pretty much the same thing. Now with iPhones, Androids, Kindles, Tablets, and TVs connecting to the Web, that's not true. Your site may not work right on these devices, especially if it includes flash or assumes mouse-based navigation. Apps that work on the iPhone don't work on the Android. Widgets for FiOS TV don't work anywhere else."

To further complicate matters, each new device comes with its own business ecosystem. Touchscreen devices, in particular, have their own formats, technology, and-importantly-advertising networks. This could be one reason why Google acquired AdMob, a company that can place advertising where Google can't, namely in apps and across mobile websites. Indeed, Google's November 2009 purchase of AdMob for $750 million in stock can be read as a confirmation that this new touchscreen device internet is much different from the rest.

Mobile search company Taptu has tracked the development of this niche from the start, becoming the only search company focused on indexing what it calls the emerging "Mobile Touch Web." In January, Taptu released a report documenting this new web and the second wave of content coming online specifically designed for mobile touchscreen devices. According to Taptu, "For a while now the media has talked about the ‘app revolution' or the ‘app economy' and whilst this has been a revolution of sorts, the ‘app economy' does not even make up half of the mobile touch ecosystem, that is, content specifically designed and optimized for mobile touchscreen devices." Unlike other mobile web content, this type stands out through finger-friendly layouts and lightweight pages that are faster to load over cellular networks.

The company, which began crawling and indexing the Mobile Touch Web in May 2009, scans more than 100 million websites each month using specialized software that detects whether a site is a website or one specifically designed for the Mobile Touch Web. In December 2009, it counted a whopping 326,600 Mobile Touch Web sites, a number that far exceeds the 119,047 apps in the Apple App Store and 22,000 applications in the Android Market. By the end of 2010, Taptu forecasts that the Mobile Touch Web will have grown to more than 500,000 sites and will exceed 1 million sites by the end of 2011.

Taptu's research also shows the Mobile Touch Web is entering the mainstream and will evolve to deliver consumers the same excellent quality user experience they currently get with apps. Expect to see this type of service accelerate as industry efforts such as the BONDI Initiative provide developers access to deeper device functions such as geolocation and presence.

The good news is it's getting easier for publishers to create rich-touchscreen users experiences in the browser without having to create platform-specific applications. The bad news is the Mobile Touch Web, though growing vigorously as Taptu shows, is far from the only game in town.

In the next few years, publishers will have to rethink their strategies and adopt their business models to the existence of the Splinternet. This means creating a balance of touch-friendly content for touchscreen devices but not losing site of the opportunities offered by the other internets. For content companies, the opportunities are exciting. However, they face a hard road ahead remaining flexible and following the most lucrative paths on the ever-fragmenting Splinternet.