The Wrong Meaning Of Web

There’s been some great discussion over the last few years about mobile first versus web first. Fred Wilson raised a lot of attention to this two years ago when he wrote a post entitled Mobile First Web Second. Then a couple of weeks ago Vibhu Norby wrote an excellent counter-article on why web should be first called Why We’re Pivoting from Mobile-first to Web-first.

I don’t believe this is the right way to think about the issue, though. I think we are using the wrong definition of ‘web.’

The web definition I’m focusing on is as a set of technologies used for storing and disseminating information. I use ‘web client’ as the front-end technology and customer-facing portion of the site.

Today’s best apps are web apps. Consider Instagram, Foursquare, and Google. Calling them web or mobile companies is a fallacy. None of them are web-client nor mobile companies, meaning their businesses aren’t built on the customer-facing portion of the service. All of them are web companies, meaning that their business models rely on the web back-end. This does not imply anything about how we interact with the service. Google search is primarily used in a web browser. But I’ll bet that Google Maps is primarily used on mobile devices. Foursquare and Instagram chose to start with mobile interaction models, but they are really companies whose primary business resides on the web. Neither service is even possible without the web.

Evernote provides a very interesting insight into this, I believe. Evernote has desktop, web and mobile clients for every conceivable platform. But Evernote’s business is not any of those consumer-facing products at all. Evernote’s value proposition is that they make it really easy to save your stuff and see your stuff. It’s a stuff bucket. This really becomes clear when you look at Trunk. There are hundreds of apps for getting stuff into and out of Evernote. In fact Evernote open sourced its desktop client. Anyone can see the source, create a copy and put out their own Evernote desktop client.

So… is it web-first or mobile-first? That depends on the business. But the business model better revolve around web technology itself. From there, we decide what’s the best way to interact with the service: mobile, desktop or web-client.

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