In case you live under a rock and hadn’t heard yet, the biggest news coming out of the tech industry in the last few days is Verizon’s purchase of Yahoo for $4.83 billion. Just last year, the telecommunications giant purchased AOL for around $4.4 billion, so the new acquisition is clearly part of a bigger master plan to make Verizon a major player in online media, not just a cell phone carrier.
By purchasing Yahoo and AOL—which, it should be noted, include between the two of them such properties as Tumblr, Rivals, Flickr, Complex Media, TechCrunch, and The Huffington Post, to name a few—and announcing plans to merge the two, Verizon clearly states its intent not only to be an internet and data service provider but also a content provider. With access to the aggregated user information, ad technology, and content sites of these two companies, Verizon is poised to become a one-stop shop for all a user’s needs online. Such a development, should it be carried out to its ultimate conclusion, could spell the end of the website as we know it.
Yes, you read that correctly. Websites could become obsolete in the not-too-distant future. Take note here that I’m saying websites will become obsolete, not the internet. The internet will live on and thrive. Individual websites, however, may be doomed. Let’s unpack just how that could happen.
The Role of the Web and the Rise of Platforms
Web interaction has recently transitioned to a “push-based” model of consumption, as Sergio Nouvel puts it in his UX Magazine article “Why Web Design is Dead.” As opposed to a “pull-based” model in which a user explores the web and a site’s goal was to then catch users’ attention and draw them to their content, a “push-based” model streamlines the process by creating a funnel that delivers the appropriate content to the target user. Users are no longer interested in the unique way information might be presented; they just want the information, and they want it handed to them in such a way that they don’t have to think or expend much energy to find it.
In such a model, the ideal endpoint is a single-entity platform, one web page that has all the necessary content right there in a central hub. The numbers suggest that we are already quickly heading to a sort of single-entity internet future: Facebook and Google alone, the two top dogs of “push-based” central hubs, make up more than 25% of the total web traffic in the U.S. By acquiring AOL and Yahoo, the latter of which also commands a sizeable share of overall web traffic, and planning to merge the two, Verizon is tapping into this trend of providing both the web service and the curated content platform tailored to specific users. The Yahoo home page, onto which Verizon has already slapped its logo, is a decent example of a curated “mission control” for browsers, housing a trending news feed, a weather ticker, and a dashboard of various subjects—sports, shopping, mail, finance, etc.—customized for each user’s unique account, and as Verizon continues to aggregate content and data, the single-entity platform will only get more comprehensive. Soon, one web page is all you’ll need.
It’s official: we’ve entered the age of the mobile device. If that wasn’t clear enough already from the general trend of people being glued to their phone screens, Google has put the issue to bed by announcing that more Google searches are made on mobile devices than on desktops. This is bad news for the fate of the traditional website, especially given how much of a self-contained ecosystem Google now is. It’s becoming more and more frequent that when you type a question into Google, the answer will appear at the top of the results page without redirecting you to any other site. This is yet another example of “push-based” vs. “pull-based” consumption and shows tangibly how we’re relying less and less on traditional websites.
On top of that, more and more these days, people are instead relying on a handful of mobile apps to provide all the information they need instead of having to work their way through mobile friendly sites whose responsive design can often be clunky and frustrating. Well-designed mobile apps cut out the middle man and directly provide the news, social networking, and shopping experiences that websites once offered. Now imagine we take this one step further and combine our top five or so favorite apps into one platform, and that platform comes from the very provider who gives you the data to be able to be a mobile-first user. Verizon, a company with a vested interest in mobile device usage, fits this bill perfectly. They are one of the country’s top service providers, and the purchases of Yahoo and AOL give them the content pool they need to cut out any website-based middle man and give users a single location to access all the information they would need.
Ads, Ads, Ads
Inherent in this “push-based” model of consumption to which most web services now subscribe is the idea that a company or content provider must now be able to understand what a specific user needs and provide that to them without the user having to do much searching. It sounds like a tall order, but the rise of cookies in conjunction with targeted web advertising has made it not only a possibility but the norm. The evolution of native ads and the ability of marketers to hone in on specific users with targeted content has been a major driving force in how users interact with the internet now, so much so that it’s hard to visit any website without finding an ad that might somehow be relevant to you.
Don’t think websites are doomed just yet? Tell us why in a comment below!