Thessaloniki

[Video+Transcript]: The web is dead? – My talk at TEDx Thessaloniki

Today the good folks at TEDx Thessaloniki released the recording of my talk “The web is dead“.

Christian Heilmann at TEDx

I’ve given you the slides and notes earlier here on this blog but here’s another recap of what I talked about:

  • The excitement for the web is waning – instead apps are the cool thing
  • At first glance, the reason for this is that apps deliver much better on a mobile form factor and have a better, high fidelity interaction patterns
  • If you scratch the surface of this message though you find a few disturbing points:
    • Everything in apps is a number game – the marketplaces with the most apps win, the apps with the most users are the ones that will get more users as those are the most promoted ones
    • The form factor of an app was not really a technical necessity. Instead it makes software and services a consumable. The full control of the interface and the content of the app lies with the app provider, not the users. On the web you can change the display of content to your needs, you can even translate and have content spoken out for you. In apps, you get what the provider allows you to get
    • The web allowed anyone to be a creator. The curb to mount from reader to writer was incredibly low. In the apps world, it becomes much harder to become a creator of functionality.
    • Content creation is easy in apps. If you create the content the app makers wants you to. The question is who the owner of that content is, who is allowed to use it and if you have the right to stop app providers from analysing and re-using your content in ways you don’t want them to. Likes and upvotes/downvotes aren’t really content creation. They are easy to do, don’t mean much but make sure the app creator has traffic and interaction on their app – something that VCs like to see.
    • Apps are just another form factor to control software for the benefit of the publisher. Much like movies on DVDs are great, because when you scratch them you need to buy a new one, publishers can now make software services become outdated, broken and change, forcing you to buy a new one instead of enjoying new features cropping up automatically.
    • Apps lack the data interoperability of the web. If you want your app to succeed, you need to keep the users locked into yours and not go off and look at others. That way most apps are created to be highly addictive with constant stimulation and calls to action to do more with them. In essence, the business models of apps these days force developers to create needy, bullying tamagotchi and call them innovation

Transcript

You might have realized I’m not from here and I’m sorry for the translators because I speak fast, but it’s a good idea to know that life is cruel and you have to do a job.

Myself, I’ve been a web developer for 17 years like something like that now. I’ve dedicated my life to the web. I used to be a radio journalist. I used to be a travel agent, but that’s all boring because you saw people today who save people’s lives and change the life of children and stand there with their stick and do all kind of cool stuff.

I’m just this geek in the corner that just wants to catch this camera… how cool is that thing? They also gave me a laser pointer but it didn’t give me kitten. This is just really annoying.

I want to talk today about my wasted life because you heard it this morning already: we have a mobile revolution and you see it in press all over: the web is dead.

You don’t see excitement about it anymore. You don’t see people like, “Go to www awesome whatever .com” Nobody talks like this anymore. They shouldn’t have talked like that in the past as well but nobody does it anymore.

The web is not the cool thing. It’s not: “I did e-commerce yesterday.” Nobody does that, instead it is, “Oh, I’ll put things on my phone.”

This is what killed the web. The mobile phone factor is just not liking itself to the web. It’s not fun to type in TEDxThessaloniki.com with your two thumbs and forgetting how many S’s are there in Thessaloniki and then going to some strange website.

We text each other all the time, but typing in URL it feels icky, it feels not natural for a phone, so we needed to do something different that’s why we came up with the QR codes – robot barf as I keep calling it – because that didn’t work either. It’s beautiful isn’t it? You go there with your phone and you start scanning it and then two and a half minutes later with only 30% of your battery left, it goes to some URL.

Not a single mobile operating system came out with the QR reader out of the box. It’s worrying, so I realized there has to be a chance and the change happened. The innovation, the new beginning, the new dawn of the internet was the app.

“There’s an app for that,” was the great talk.

“There’s an app for everything. They’re beautiful. Apps are great.” I can explain it to my … well, not my mom but other people’s moms: “There’s an icon, you click on it, you open it and this is the thing and you use that now. There’s no address bar, there’s nothing to understand about domains, HTTP, cookies, all kind of things. You open it, you play with it and they’re beautiful.”

The interaction between the hardware and software with apps is gorgeous. On iOS, it’s beautiful what you can do and you cannot do any of that on the web with iOS because Apple … Well, because you can’t.

Apps are focused. That’s a really good thing about them, the problem with the web was that we’re like little rabbits. We’re running around like kittens with the laser pointer and we’re like, “Oh, that’s 20 tabs open.” Your friend is uploading something and there’s downloading something in the background and it’s multi-tasking.

With apps, you do one thing and one thing well. That is good because the web interfaces that we built over the last years were just like this much content, that much ads and blinking stuff. People don’t want that anymore. They want to do something with an app and that’s what they are focused and they make sense.

In order not to be unemployed and make my father not proud because he said, “The computer thing will never work out,” anyways, I thought it’s a good plan to start my own app idea. I’m going to pitch that to you tonight. I know there’s this few VC people in the audience. I’m completely buy-able. A few million dollars, I’m okay with that.

When I did my research, scientific research by scientists, I found out that most apps are used in leisure time. They’re not used during their work time. You will be hard pushed to find a boss that says like, “Wilkins, by lunch break you have to have a new extra level in Candy Crush or you’re fired.” It’s not going to happen. Most companies, I don’t know – some startup maybe.

We use them in our free time and being a public speaker and traveling all the time, I find that people use apps the most where you are completely focused and alone, in other words: public toilets. This goes so far that with every application that came out, the time spent in the facilities becomes longer and longer. At Snake, it was like 12 minutes and Angry Birds who are about 14, but Candy Crush and with Flappy Bird…

It happens. You sit there and you hear people inside getting a new high score and like, “Yeah, look what I did?” You’re like, “Yeah, look what I want to do.” That’s when I thought, “Why leave that to chance? Why is there no app that actually makes going to the public facilities, not a boring biological thing but makes it a social thing?”

I’m proposing the app called, “What’s Out.” What’s Out is a local application much like FourSquare and others that you can use to good use while you’re actually sitting down where you do things that you know how to do anyways without having to think about them.

You can check in, you can become the mayor, you can send reviews, you can actually check in with your friends and earn badges like three stalls in a row.All these things that make social apps social apps – and why not? You can actually link the photo that you took of the food in Instagram to your check in on What’s Out and that gets shared on the internet.

You can also pay for the full version and it doesn’t get shared on your Facebook account.

You might think I’m a genius, you might think that I have this great idea that nobody had before, but the business model is already in use and has been tested for years successfully in the canine market. The thing is dogs don’t have a thumb so they didn’t tweet about it. They also can’t write so they didn’t put a patent on it so I can do that.

Seriously now though, this is what I hate about apps. They are a hype, they’re no innovation, they’re nothing new. We had software that was doing one thing and one thing well before, we call it Word and Outlook. We called it things that we had to install and then do something with it.

The problem with apps is that the business model is all about hype. WhatsApp was not bought because it’s great software. WhatsApp was bought because millions of people use it. It’s because it actually allowed people to send text messages without paying for it.

Everybody now sees this as the new thing. “We got to have an app, you got to have an app.” For an app to be successful, it has to play a massive numbers game. An app needs millions of users continuously. Twitter has to change their business model every few months just to show more and more and more and more numbers.

It doesn’t really matter what the thing does. What the app does is irrelevant as long as it gets enough people addicted to using it continuously. It’s all about the eyeballs and you put content in these apps that advertisers can use that people can sell to other people. You are becoming the product inside a product.

That even goes into marketplaces. I work on Firefox OS and we have a marketplace for the emerging markets where people can build their first app without having to spend money or have a good computer or download a massive SDK, but people every time when I go to them like, “How many apps do you have in the marketplace?” “I don’t know. The HTML5 apps, they could be anything.”

“If it’s not a few million, the marketplace isn’t good.”

I go to a baker if they have three good things. I don’t need them to have 500 different rolls, but the marketplaces have to full. We just go for big numbers. That’s to me is the problem that we have with apps. I’m not questioning that the mobile web is the coming thing and is the current thing.

The desktop web is dying, it’s on decline, but apps to me are just a marketing model at the moment. They’re bringing the scratchability of CDs, the breaking of clothes, the outdated looking things of shoes into software. It’s becoming a consumer product that can be outdated and can look boring after a while.
That to me is not innovation. This is not bringing us further in the evolution of technology because I’ve seen the evolution. I came from radio to the internet. Out of a sudden, my voice was heard worldwide and not just in my hometown without me having to do anything extra.

Will you download a Christian Heilmann app? Probably not. Might you put my name in Google and find millions of things that I put in there over the last 17 years and some of them you like, probably and you can do that as well.
For apps to be successful, they have to lock you in.

The interoperability of the internet that made it so exciting, the things that Tim showed like I can use this thing and then I can do that, and then I use that. Then I click from Wikipedia to YouTube and from YouTube to this and I translate it if I need to because it’s my language. Nothing of that works in apps unless the app offers that functionality for a certain upgrade of $12.59 or something like that.

To be successful, apps have to be greedy. They have to keep you in themselves and they cannot talk to other apps unless they’re massively other successful apps. That to me doesn’t allow me as a publisher to come up with something new. It just means that the big players are getting bigger all the time and the few winners are out there and the other just go away and a lot of money has been wasted in the whole process.

In essence, apps are like Tamagotchi. Anybody old enough to remember Tamagotchi? These were these little toys for kids that were like a pet that couldn’t afford pets like in Japan, impossible. These little things were like, “Feed me, play with me, get me a playmate, do me these kind of things, do me this kind of thing.” After a few years, people were like, “Whatever.” Then rusting somewhere in the corner and collect dust and nobody cares about them any longer.

Imagine the annoyance that people have with Tamagotchi with over a hundred apps on your phone. It happens when your Android apps, for example, you leave your Android phone with like 600 updates like, “Oh please, I need a new update because I want to show you more ads.” I don’t even have insight of what updates do to the functionality of the app, it’s just I have to download another 12 MB.

If I’m on a contract where I have to pay per megabyte, that’s not fun. How is that innovative? How is that helping me? It’s helping the publisher. We’re making the problem of selling software our problem and we do it just by saying it’s a nicer interface.

Apps are great. Focus on one thing, one thing well, great. The web that we know right now is too complex. We can learn a lot from that one focus thing, but we shouldn’t let ourselves be locked into one environment. You upload pictures to Instagram now, have you read the terms and conditions?

Do you know who owns these pictures? Do you know if this picture could show up next to something that you don’t agree with like a political party because they have the right to show it? Nobody cares about them. Nobody reads that up.
What Tim showed, the image with the globe with the pictures, that was all from Flickr. Flickr, I was part of that group, licensed everything with Creative Commons. You knew that data is yours. There’s a button for downloading all your pictures. If you don’t want it anymore, here’s your pictures, thank you, we’re gone.

With other services, you get everything for free with ads next to it and your pictures might end up on like free singles in your area without you having to do anything with it. You don’t have insight. You don’t own the interface. You don’t own the software.

All in all, apps to me are a step back to the time that I replaced with the internet. A time when software came in a consumable format without me knowing what’s going on. In a browser, I can highlight part of the text, I can copy it into your email and send it to you. I can translate it. I can be blind and listen to a website. I can change things around. I can delete parts of it if it’s too much content there. I can use an ad blocker if I don’t like ads.
On apps, I don’t have any of that. I’m just the slave to the machine and I do it because everybody else does it. I’ve got 36,000 followers on Twitter, I don’t know why. I’m just putting things out there, but you see for example, Beyonce has 13.3 million followers on Twitter and she did six updates.

Twitter and other apps give you the idea that you have a social life that you don’t have. We stop having experiences and we talk about experiences instead. You go to concerts and you got a guy with an iPad in front of you filming the band like, “That’s going to be great sound and thank you for being in my face. I wanted to see the band, that’s what I came here for.” Your virtual life is doing well right? Everybody loves you are there. You don’t have to talk to real people. That would be boring”. Let’s not go back in time. Let’s not go back where software was there for us to just consume and take in.

I would have loved Word to have more functionality in 1995. I couldn’t get it because there wasn’t even add-ons. I couldn’t write any add-on. With the web, I can teach any of you in 20 minutes how to write your first website. HTML page, HTML5 app give me an hour and you learn it.

The technologies are decentralized. They’re open. They’re easy to learn and they’re worldwide. With apps, we go back to just one world that has it. What’s even worse is that we mix software with hardware again. “Oh you want that cool new game. You’re on Android? No, you got to wait seven months. You got to have an iPhone. Wait, do you have the old iPhone? No you got to buy the new one.”
How is that innovation? How is that taking it further? Software and technology is there to enrich our lives, to make it more magical, to be entertaining, to be beautiful. Right now, the model how we build apps right now, the economic model means that you put your life into apps and they make money with it. Something has gone very, very wrong there. I don’t think it’s innovation, I think it’s just dirty business and making money.

I challenge you all to go out and not upload another picture into an app or not type something into another closed environment. Find a way to put something on the web. This could be a blog software. This could be a comment on a newspaper.

Everything you put on that decentralized, beautiful, linked worldwide network of computers, and television sets, and mobile phones, and wearables, and Commodore 64s that people put their own things in, anything you put there is a little sign and a little sign can become a ripple and if more people like it, it become a wave. I’m looking forward to surfing the waves that you all generate. Thanks very much.

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[Video]: The web is dead? – My talk at TEDx Thessaloniki

Today the good folks at TEDx Thessaloniki released the recording of my talk “The web is dead“.

Christian Heilmann at TEDx

I’ve given you the slides and notes earlier here on this blog but here’s another recap of what I talked about:

  • The excitement for the web is waning – instead apps are the cool thing
  • At first glance, the reason for this is that apps deliver much better on a mobile form factor and have a better, high fidelity interaction patterns
  • If you scratch the surface of this message though you find a few disturbing points:
    • Everything in apps is a number game – the marketplaces with the most apps win, the apps with the most users are the ones that will get more users as those are the most promoted ones
    • The form factor of an app was not really a technical necessity. Instead it makes software and services a consumable. The full control of the interface and the content of the app lies with the app provider, not the users. On the web you can change the display of content to your needs, you can even translate and have content spoken out for you. In apps, you get what the provider allows you to get
    • The web allowed anyone to be a creator. The curb to mount from reader to writer was incredibly low. In the apps world, it becomes much harder to become a creator of functionality.
    • Content creation is easy in apps. If you create the content the app makers wants you to. The question is who the owner of that content is, who is allowed to use it and if you have the right to stop app providers from analysing and re-using your content in ways you don’t want them to. Likes and upvotes/downvotes aren’t really content creation. They are easy to do, don’t mean much but make sure the app creator has traffic and interaction on their app – something that VCs like to see.
    • Apps are just another form factor to control software for the benefit of the publisher. Much like movies on DVDs are great, because when you scratch them you need to buy a new one, publishers can now make software services become outdated, broken and change, forcing you to buy a new one instead of enjoying new features cropping up automatically.
    • Apps lack the data interoperability of the web. If you want your app to succeed, you need to keep the users locked into yours and not go off and look at others. That way most apps are created to be highly addictive with constant stimulation and calls to action to do more with them. In essence, the business models of apps these days force developers to create needy, bullying tamagotchi and call them innovation

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Thank you, TEDx Thessaloniki

Last weekend was a milestone for me: I spoke at my first TEDx event. I am a big fan of TED and learned a lot from watching their talks and using them as teaching materials for coaching other speakers. That’s why this was a big thing for me and I want to take this opportunity to thank the organisers and point out just how much out of their way they went to make this a great experience for all involved.

thanks tedx thessaloniki

Hey, come and speak at TEDx!

I got introduced to the TEDx Thessaloniki folk by my friend Amalia Agathou and once contacted and approved, I was amazed just how quickly everything fell into place:

  • There was no confusion as to what was expected of me – a talk of 18 minutes tops, presented from a central computer so I needed to create powerpoint or keynote slides dealing with the overall topic of the event “every end is a beginning”
  • I was asked to deliver my talk as a script and had an editor to review it to make it shorter, snappier or more catered to a “TED” audience
  • My flights and hotel were booked for me and I got my tickets and hotel voucher as email – no issue getting there and no “I am with the conference” when trying to check into the hotel
  • I had a deadline to deliver my slides and then all that was left was waiting for the big day to come.

A different stage

TEDx talks are different to other conferences as they are much more focused on the presenter. They are more performance than talk. Therefore the setup was different than stages I am used to:

  • There were a lot of people in a massive theatre expecting me to say something exciting
  • I had a big red dot to stand and move in with a stage set behind me (lots of white suitcases, some of them with video projection on them)
  • There were three camera men; two with hand-held cameras and one with a boom-mounted camera that swung all around me
  • I had two screens with my slides and a counter telling me the time
  • I was introduced before my talk and had 7 seconds to walk on stage whilst a music was playing and my name shown on the big screens on stage
  • In addition to the presentations, there were also short plays and bands performing on stage

Rehearsals, really?

Suffice to say, I was mortified. This was too cool to be happening and hearing all the other speakers and seeing their backgrounds (the Chief Surgeon of the Red Cross, famous journalists, very influential designers, political activists, the architect who designed the sea-side of the city, famous writers, early seed stage VCs, car designers, photo journalists and many, many more) made me feel rather inadequate with my hotch-potch career putting bytes in order to let people see kittens online.

We had a day of rehearsals before the event and I very much realised that they are not for me. Whilst I had to deliver a script, I never stick to one. I put my slides together to remind me what I want to cover and fill the gaps with whatever comes to me. This makes every talk exciting to me, but also a nightmare for translators (so, a huge SORRY and THANK YOU to whoever had to convert my stream of consciousness into Greek this time).

Talking to an empty room doesn’t work for me – I need audience reactions to perform well. Every speaker had a speaking coach to help them out after the rehearsal. They talked to us what to improve, what to enhance, how to use the stage better and stay in our red dot and so on. My main feedback was to make my jokes more obvious as subtle sarcasm might not get noticed. That’s why I added it thicker during the talk. Suffice to say, my coach was thunderstruck after seeing the difference of my rehearsal and the real thing. I told him I need feedback.

Event organisation and other show facts

All in all I was amazed by how well this event was organised:

  • The hotel was in walking distance along a seaside boulevard to the theatre
  • Food was organised in food trucks outside the building and allowing people to eat it on the lawn whilst having a chat. This avoided long queues.
  • Coffee was available by partnering with a coffee company
  • The speaker travel was covered by partnering with an airline – Aegean
  • The day was organised into four sections with speakers on defined topics with long breaks in between
  • There were Q&A sessions with speakers in breaks (15 minutes each, with a defined overall topic and partnering speakers with the same subject matter but differing viewpoints)
  • All the videos were streamed and will end up on YouTube. They were also shown on screens outside the auditorium for attendees who preferred sitting on sofas and cushions
  • There was an outside afterparty with drinks provided by a drinks company
  • Speaker dinners were at restaurants in walking distance and going long into the night

Attendees

The best thing for me was that the mix of attendees was incredible. I met a few fellow developers, journalists, doctors, teachers, a professional clown, students and train drivers. Whilst TED has a reputation to be elitist, the ticket price of 40 Euro for this event ensured that there was a healthy cross-section and the afterparty blended in nicely with other people hanging out at the beach.

I am humbled and amazed that I pulled that off and I was asked to be part of this. I can’t wait to get my video to see how I did, because right now, it all still seems like a dream.

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TEDx Thessaloniki – The web is dead?

OMG OMG OMG I am speaking at TEDx! Sorry, just had to get this out of the way…

I am currently in the sunny Thessaloniki in Greece at TEDx and waiting for things to kick off. My own talk is in the afternoon and I wanted to share my notes and slides here for those who can’t wait for the video.

The, slightly cryptic overall theme of the event is “every end is a beginning” and thus I chose to talk about the perceived end of the web at the hand of native apps and how apps are already collapsing in on themselves. Here are the slides and notes which – as usual – might end up just being a reminder for myself what I want to cover.

Hello, I am here today to tell you that the web is dead. Which is unfortunate, as I am a web developer. I remember when the web was the cool new revolution and people flocked to it. It was the future. What killed it?

Typing on a Blackberry Torch

The main factor in the death of the web is the form factor of the smart phone. This is how people consume the web right now. And as typing web addresses in it isn’t fun, people wanted something different.

We got rather desperate in our attempt to make things easier. QR codes were the cool thing to do. Instead of typing in an address in a minute it is much easier to scan them with your phone – and most of the time the camera does focus correctly in a few minutes and only drains 30% of your battery.

This is when the app revolution kicked in. Instead of going to web sites, you can have one app each for all your needs. Apps are great. They perform well, they are beautiful, they are easy to find and easy to install and use.

Apps are also focused. They do one thing and one thing well, and you really use them. You don’t have a browser open with several windows. You keep your attention to the one thing you wanted to do.
So, in order to keep my job, I came up with an idea for an app myself.

In my research, I found that apps are primarily used in moments of leisure. Downtime, so to say.

This goes so far that one could say that most apps are actually used in moments historically used for reflection and silence. Like being in the bathroom. My research showed that there is a direct correlation between apps released and time spent in facilities.

chart: time spent in toilet playing games

And this is where my app idea comes in. Instead of just using a random app in these moments, use WhatsOut!

whatsout logo

WhatsOut is a location based checkin app much like Foursquare but focused at public facilities. You can check-in, become the mayor, leave reviews, win badges like “3 stall buddies” when checking in with friends.

Marking territory

The app is based on principles of other markets, like the canine one where it’s been very successful for years. There are many opportunities to enhance the app. You can link photos of food on Instagram with the checkin (as an immediate result), and with enough funding and image recognition it could even become a health app.

hype

Seriously though: this is my problem with apps. Whilst technically superior on a mobile device they are not an innovation.

The reason is their economic model: everything is a numbers game. For app markets to succeed, they need millions of apps. For apps to succeed, they need thousands of users. What the app does is not important – how many eyeballs it gets is.

This is why every app needs to lock you in. It needs for you to stay and do things. Add content, buy upgrades, connect to friends and follow people.

tamagotchi

In essence, for apps to succeed they have to be super annoying Tamagotchi. They want you to care for them all the time and be there only for them. And we all know what happened to Tamagotchi – people were super excited about them and now they all collect dust.

The web was software evolved – you get your content and functionality on demand and independent of hardware. Apps, as they are now, are a step back in that regard. We’re back to waiting for software to be delivered to us as a packaged format dependent on hardware.

That’s why the web is far from dead. It is not a consumable product. Its very nature is distributed. And you can’t shut down or replace that. Software should enrich and empower our lives, our lives should not be the content that makes software successful.

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