The Web is not a Communications Medium

My friend Martin Geddes has an intriguing post up at CircleID titled “Is the Web a “Communications Medium?”. The answer is “no, it’s not:”

I’ve been having a short Twitter exchange with Paul Downey (@psd), someone who I hold in high intellectual and personal regard. I’ve made an assertion that has Paul snorting his coffee back up through his nose and into his keyboard: that the Web is not a communications medium. Justifying this claim can’t be done in 140 characters.

Now, there is a sleight of hand I’m pulling off here. You can build communications media on the Web, but my claim is that the Web itself is not one, and that has subtle but significant consequences.

(Much of this post is an edited version of a section from my free white paper on the future of communications in the cloud, Connect, Interact, Transact.)

To me, a “communications medium” is one which allows bi-directional messaging. It is something that doesn’t require both parties to be in the same “place” (physical or virtual) at the same time.

What the Web lacks is an ability to “introduce” you to the website, and to provide a means for you to share data about yourself including how the other side can choose to initiate contact back to you.

One of the basic distinctions in networking separates communication – a personal, two-way activity – from content publishing, an essentially impersonal one-way activity. The Web is something of an aberration among networks as it’s more a one-way system than a two-way system. We can summarize the history of the Internet something like this:

1. ARPANET was a telegram; its primary use was e-mail.
2. Early Internet was a floppy disk; its primary use was FTP.
3. Web is a book; its primary use is reading.
4. Streaming Internet is a TV set; its primary use is Netflix, etc.

If the future Internet is a video conferencing, gaming, or augmented reality system, we’ll finally enter an era of networking that’s not simply a rehash of some older technology at a lower price point. Until then, it’s useful to be mindful of the limitations of the current reigning paradigm.