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TL v61n4: David Ratledge
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Tennessee Libraries

Volume 61 Number 4  


It's My Opinion! 



David Ratledge


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Will Apps Supersede the Web? 


 The Web has been around a long time now. We all know the many things it has to offer, from information to entertainment and more. Although the Web can be accessed through mobile devices, it was designed for, and best viewed by, much larger desktop computers and laptops. Generally the bigger the screen the better the viewing experience, and desktop or laptop computers with their ability to run Web browsers supporting plug-ins, extensions, and other add-ons are the best guarantee that all the content on a Web site can be viewed in the way it was meant to be viewed.

What has made mobile devices so successful is not the Web. With the small screens, inability to run all content, and no mouse, the Web experience on a device such as a smartphone is definitely lacking. There are mobile-formatted versions of many websites and it is great when those are available, but that availability is not something that can be readily counted upon.

Apps then, are what have made mobile devices successful. These small and dedicated applications, written to perform specific tasks and optimized for use and display on small portable devices, are a different approach to accessing information and other network-based content.

I believe apps will, and have already begun, to supersede the Web.

When the Web came into existence,I thought it was one of the greatest things in the world. I spent hours exploring the available information and content. It is a fantastic resource, and I use it daily, even hourly, but as I have become more mobile and been introduced to smartphones running apps, I have come to realize that as great as the Web is, it is no longer the best way.

Consider Amazon’s website. I cannot help but cringe every time I go there no matter how excited I may be that I am about to buy something I want. There is so much going on. It is like getting slapped in the face. I do not want or need to see images of eight different televisions that look almost identical in design, nor the “Big Mouth Toys Toilet Mug” that has been marked down to $9.99.  I estimate it would take fifteen minutes to actually look at and comprehend everything on Amazon’s main page, and that would be fifteen wasted minutes considering that almost everything on it is irrelevant to me. I would be much happier when visiting if I only found a banner confirming I was in fact on Amazon’s site and a search box. I want it simple, to the point, and with no overwhelming displays of extraneous information. I exaggerate saying just a banner and a search box, but I do so to make the point that I only want to see the things that need to be there for me to get to what I want and get out.

Library websites are just as bad. As a library user I find them to be overflowing with great stuff, but it is stuff I never use and could care less about. Designed by committees populated with highly educated and experienced people full of ideas, awash in political and personal agendas, it is no surprise that so much makes it into the page design. Just like with Amazon’s site however, it is too much of what I do not need that is just in the way of what I am trying to do.

I think you could reduce the front page of most any website down to no more than ten objects or links on the site and it will still do as good a job as it does now meeting most of the needs of most of the people that use the site.  This is what has to be done when designing a mobile version of an existing Web site. This is what has to be done when creating an App for a mobile device. It has to be simple and focused. It has to be the best distillation of all possible options down to the few that matter the most. This difference in design philosophy is why Apps will supersede the Web.

David Ratledge is Associate Professor and Head of Systems at The University of Tennessee Libraries, Knoxville.

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