Prepare for the age of the Splinternet

Josh Bernoff

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Kai Ryssdal: For all its sales and marketing savvy, for my money Apple kinda blew it today with its new tablet computer. Not so much with the device itself, $499 stripped down, $829 top of the line. But did anybody else think the name was kind of a clunker, though? I mean the iPad? My issues aside, general reaction so far has been pretty positive. But analyst Josh Bernoff at Forrester Research says the iPad, and a lot of the other new products and applications online now, are changing the Internet in some fundamental ways. Josh, it's good to have you with us.

Josh Bernoff: Hi, it's great to be here.

Ryssdal: I can confess I was a little distressed to read your post the other day about the Apple Tablet and the Kindle and all this, basically meaning the golden age of the Internet is over.

BERNOFF: That's right, it's really the Web that is shattering into pieces here. We've had 15 years now where there was a common standard for the kinds of computers that were connecting up to Web sites, and this really made it easy for the people who were delivering content to those folks. But now, between iPhones and Tablets and Kindles, you can't be sure if you build a Web site that everybody will experience it the same way anymore.

Ryssdal: So who is this a bigger problem for? Is it a problem for consumers, or is it a problem for people trying to create the content?

BERNOFF: Well, for consumers this certainly manifests itself when you turn on your iPhone and go to a Web site and it doesn't seem to work quite right. But I think it's more of a problem really for the people who are trying to reach those consumers. Because where they might have built one Web site and had it work on all different browsers and computers, now they have to make decisions: Are we going to make it run on an iPhone, are we going to make it run on a FiOS TV? And if so, you have to change the way you design it for the characteristics of those devices.

Ryssdal: Give us an example of this thing you call the Splinternet. I mean, how does it work in practicality?

BERNOFF: Well, in practicality let's just take Kraft.

Ryssdal: Kraft, you mean as in Kraft Foods.

BERNOFF: That's right, Kraft food has an application called ifood assistance that runs on your iPhone. Of course, if you happen to have a Google Android and you want to get that, well, you're going to have to wait and see if they bring it out on that environment. And this is replicated over and over again. For every company that is trying to reach consumers, they now must decide which platform to head out on, something that just wasn't true five years ago.

Ryssdal: It actually strikes me that it's a little bit like the early days in '93, '94, '95, when you had AOL and CompuServe and all the rest of them, and they didn't really talk to each other.

BERNOFF: That's exactly right. When the Web came along it created this unified environment and you know, you could send an e-mail to anybody, any Web site could be visible from anywhere. And that was all a result of the Web standards that were created at that time. For 15 years since then we've really been in a situation where because it was a unified environment, you had things like Web analytics, you had things like Adobe Flash that ran everywhere and everyone could share.

Ryssdal: Back up for a minute, Web analytics. So the all-important measurement of who is going to which Web site, and then how you can charge for advertising, monetization, I mean the whole deal.

BERNOFF: That's right. I mean if you're an advertiser right now, you can have a banner ad, that same ad can run on a New York Times Web site or Yahoo, and when the traffic comes in from that there's a standardized set of tools you can use to measure whether it was effective, and where the customers came from and why they clicked on things. If you set yourself up with an Apple iPhone application, none of that infrastructure exists, people are trying to build it, but you're going to have to do that, and you'll have to do it separately if you do it on some other device.

Ryssdal: And you as a consumer, you need to choose your appliance carefully.

BERNOFF: That's true. It's been true all along. I mean, ever since Beta versus VHS, we've been in an environment where if you made the wrong choice, you ended up behind. And it's true right now. You're going to be making a bet, and if you make the wrong bet, you might regret it later.

Ryssdal: Josh Bernoff from Forrester Research and the Internet becoming the Splinternet. Josh, thanks a lot.

BERNOFF: Thank you.

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