What concerns you about the web industry?

Paul Boag

In our sector (the web industry), what one near-future prospect scares you the most?

On the surface it would be easy to think that there is little to fear within the web industry. While other sectors struggled to come to terms with the impact of digital on their businesses, we are riding a wave of innovation that has been going on over 20 years.

That said, there are some trends that are emerging, which threaten both the nature of the web and our role within it.

Although there are a number of areas I could focus on, the question asked me to identify one prospect that scares me the most. This has to be the decline of the webpage.

The decline of the webpage

As web designers the bread and butter of our role is to create websites or web applications. Our job is to make the process of navigating these applications and websites as easy as possible.

If you take a moment to consider why this role needs to exist at all you can quickly identify a potential danger to our livelihood. The reason we need web designers is because navigating from one website to another has become a complicated business.

Think about it for a moment. Each website you visit as a completely different user interface to the previous one. Every time you want a piece of information, you have to learn how to navigate the website containing that information.

For example, let’s imagine you are hiring a web design agency. You are looking for an agency with experience of building websites for the charity sector and want to see examples of the work they have done. Currently this task involves searching for web design agencies with charity experience and then visiting each site in turn to look through their portfolio for examples of their charity work. Not only is this time-consuming, you also need to adapt to the navigation of each site.

Looked at this way it quickly becomes apparent that finding information online is not as easy as it should be. But things are changing.

Increasingly you are not having to visit a website in order to find certain types of information. For example, if I want to know local cinema times I can simply ask Siri and she will return just the listings required without ever visiting a website. Equally, if I want to know who the CEO of Yahoo is, Google will tell me this in its search results without the need to visit a specific website.

Google search results for who is the CEO of Yahoo!
Increasingly it is not necessary to visit individual websites to find the information you require.

I do not think it will be long before we can make these kinds of requests for other data to. In the next few years I anticipate being able to ask to view examples of charity website design without ever needing to visit the individual agency websites.

Essentially, we are seeing a move away from webpages, towards structured data that can be displayed in different ways across different devices. Google glasses, Siri, smart watches and various other Internet enabled devices will not rely on the graphical user interfaces of traditional websites. Where then does this leave the role of traditional web designers? Will companies still pay top rates to develop the user interface for a website which few people actually visit?

Admittedly these websites will not go away, but their role will be diminished. Most of the user interface work will be handled by the device, rather than the website itself. The website will continue to exist, but more as a repository of data, than as a place people visit.

Ultimately this will be good for the user because they will not be required to constantly navigate different user interfaces. It will also mean a continued role for web developers. However it may lead to a decline in user experience design online.

Of course it could be argued that this is not a near-future prospect, as it could still be a number of years away. So even though I’m only meant to identify one thing that scares me, I would like to share a more immediate concern.

The demise of universal access

As I wrote yesterday, Tim Berners-Lee intended the web to be a universal tool accessible to anybody. For me this is a key component to the web and should lie at the heart of the web community.

Unfortunately this concept of universal access is being slowly eroded partly because of our own actions and partly due to company and government policy.

Whether through censorship imposed by government or technological constraints created by web designers, the truth is that fewer and fewer of the people online have access to the full breadth of what the web offers.

The web is a truly remarkable medium that has the potential to make the sum of all human knowledge available to every person on the planet. It therefore saddens me to see us moving further away from that vision.

There is no doubt that the web industry has seen phenomenal growth and experienced incredible innovation throughout its life, but it is also a place of constant change. Most of these changes are for the better, but we need to remain vigilant that the fundamentals of the web are not being undermined and to ensure we personally adapt to avoid becoming redundant.

So what about you? What is the one thing that scares you the most about the future of web design?

“Internet Danger” image courtesy of Bigstock.com