The post-browser era of the web is coming

At yesterday's Worldwide Developer Conference keynote, Apple announced its annual updates to iOS, OS X, and the new watchOS. As usual, the Apple rumor blogs correctly predicted most of the important announcements weeks ago, but one important piece of news only leaked a few hours before the keynote: the launch of a new application called "News". Apple's News app press release noted: "News provides beautiful content from the world's greatest sources, personalized for you".

Apple basically cloned Flipboard to create News. Flipboard was once Apple's "App of the Year" in 2010, and it remains one of the most popular reading applications on iOS. This isn't the first time Apple has chosen to compete with its ecosystem of app developers. There is even a term for it, called "Sherlocking".

But forget about Apple's impact on Flipboard for a minute. The release of the News app signifies a more important shift in the evolution of the web, the web content management industry, and the publishing industry.

Impact on content management platforms

Why is Apple's News app a big deal for content management platforms? When you can read all the news you are interested in in News, you no longer have to visit websites for it. It's a big deal because there are half a billion active iOS devices and Apple will ship its News app to every single one of them. It will accelerate the fact that websites are becoming less relevant as an end-point destination.

Some of the other new iOS 9 features will add fuel to the fire. For example, Apple's search service Spotlight will also get an upgrade, allowing third-party services to work directly with Apple's search feature. Spotlight can now "deep link" to content inside of a website or application, further eliminating website or applications as end-points. You could search for a restaurant in Yelp directly from your home screen, and go straight to Yelp's result page without having to open the Yelp website or application. Add to that the Apple Watch which doesn't even ship with a web browser, and it's clear that Apple is about to accelerate the post-browser era of the web.

The secret to the News app is the new Apple News Format; rumored to be a RSS-like data feed with support for additional design elements like images, videos, custom fonts, and more. Apple uses these feeds to aggregate content from different news sources, uses machine learning to match the best content to a given user, and provides a clean, consistent look and feel for articles coming from the various news sources. That is the long way of saying that Apple decides what the best content is for you, and what the best format is to deliver it in. It is a profound change, but for most people this will actually be a superior user experience.

The release of Apple News is further proof that data-driven experiences will be the norm and of what I have been calling The Big Reverse of the Web. The fact that for the web to reach its full potential, it will go through a massive re-architecture from a pull-based architecture to a push-based architecture. After the Big Reverse of the Web is complete, content will find you, rather than you having to find content. Apple's News and Flipboard are examples of what such push-based experiences look like; they "push" relevant and interesting content to you rather than you having to "pull" the news from multiple sources yourself.

When content is "pushed" to you by smart aggregators, using a regular web browser doesn't make much sense. You benefit from a different kind of browser for the web. For content management platforms, it redefines the browser and websites as end-points; de-emphasizing the role of presentation while increasing the importance of structured content and metadata. Given Apple's massive install base, the launch of its News app will further accelerate the post-browser era of the web.

I don't know about your content management platform, but Drupal is ready for it. It was designed for a content-first mentality while many competitive content management systems continue to rely on a dated page-centric content model. It was also designed to be a content repository capable of outputting content in multiple formats to multiple end-points.

Impact on publishing industry

Forget the impact on Flipboard or on content management platforms, the impact on the publishing world will even be more significant. The risk for publishers is that they are being disintermediated as the distribution channel and that their brands become less useful. It marks a powerful transformation that could de-materialize and de-monetize much of the current web and publishing industry.

Because of Apple's massive installed base, Apple will now own a large part of the distribution channel and it will have an outsized influence on what hundreds of millions of users will read. If we've learned one thing in the short history of the Internet, it is that jumping over middlemen is a well-known recipe for success.

This doesn't mean that online news media have lost. Maybe it can actually save them? Apple could provide publishers large and small with an immense distribution channel by giving them the ability to reach every iOS user. Apple isn't alone with this vision, as Facebook recently rolled out an experiment with select publishers like Buzzfeed and the New York Times called Instant Articles.

In a "push economy" where a publisher's brand is devalued and news is selected by smart aggregators, the best content could win; not just the content that is associated with the most well-known publishing brands with the biggest marketing budgets. Publishers will be incentivized to create more high-quality content -- content that is highly customized to different target audiences, rather than generic content that appeals to large groups of people. Success will likely rely on Apple's ability to use data to match the right content to each user.

Conclusion

This isn't necessarily bad. In my opinion, the web isn't dead, it's just getting started. We're well into the post-PC era, and now Apple is helping to move consumers beyond the browser. It's hard to not be cautiously optimistic about the long-term implications of these developments.

State of Drupal presentation (May 2015)

I gave my State of Drupal presentation at DrupalCon Los Angeles in front of 3,000+ attendees. In case you didn't attend DrupalCon Los Angeles, you can watch the recording of my keynote or download a copy of my slides (PDF, 77 MB).

In the first part of the keynote, I talked about the history of the Drupal project, some of the challenges we overcame, and some of the lessons learned. While I have talked about our history in the past, it had been 6 years ago at DrupalCon Washington DC in 2009. In those 6 years, the Drupal community has grown so large that most people in the community don't know where we came from. Understanding the history of Drupal is important; it explains our culture, it holds us together in challenging times and provides a compass for where we are heading.

In the middle part of the keynote, I talked about what I believe is one of our biggest challenges; motivating more organizations to contribute more meaingfully to Drupal's development. Just as it is important to understand the history of Drupal, talking about the present is an important foundation for everyone in the community. It is hard to grow without the context of our current state.

In the third and last part of the keynote, I looked forward, talked about my vision for the big reverse of the web and how it relates to Drupal. The way the web is evolving provides us an opportunity to better understand our sites visitors or users and to build one-to-one relationships, something that much of our society has lost with the industrial revolution. If the web evolves the way I think it will, it will be both life changing and industry changing. While it won't be without concerns, we have a huge opportunity ahead of us, and Drupal 8 will help us build towards that future.

I'm proud of where we came from and excited for where we are headed. Take a look at the keynote if you want to learn more about it.

Why WooMattic is big news for small businesses

Earlier this week Matt Mullenweg, founder and CEO of Automattic, parent company of WordPress.com, announced the acquisition of WooCommerce. This is a very interesting move that I think cements the SMB/enterprise positioning between WordPress and Drupal.

As Matt points out a huge percentage of the digital experiences on the web are now powered by open source solutions: WordPress, Joomla and Drupal. Yet one question the acquisition may evoke is: "How will open source platforms drive ecommerce innovation in the future?".

Larger retailers with complex requirements usually rely on bespoke commerce engines or built their online stores on solutions such as Demandware, Hybris and Magento. Small businesses access essential functions such as secure transaction processing, product information management, shipping and tax calculations, and PCI compliance from third-party solutions such as Shopify, Amazon's merchant services and increasingly, solutions from Squarespace and Wix.

I believe the WooCommerce acquisition by Automattic puts WordPress in a better position to compete against the slickly marketed offerings from Squarespace and Wix, and defend WordPress's popular position among small businesses. WooCommerce brings to WordPress a commerce toolkit with essential functions such as payments processing, inventory management, cart checkout and tax calculations.

Drupal has a rich library of commerce solutions ranging from Drupal Commerce -- a library of modules offered by Commerce Guys -- to connectors offered by Acquia for Demandware and other ecommerce engines. Brands such as LUSH Cosmetics handle all of their ecommerce operations with Drupal, others, such as Puma, use a Drupal-Demandware integration to combine the best elements of content and commerce to deliver stunning shopping experiences that break down the old division between brand marketing experiences and the shopping process. Companies such as Tesla Motors have created their own custom commerce engine and rely on Drupal to deliver the front-end customer experience across multiple digital channels from traditional websites to mobile devices, in-store kiosks and more.

To me, this further accentuates the division of the CMS market with WordPress dominating the small business segment and Drupal further solidifying its position with larger organizations with more complex requirements. I'm looking forward to seeing what the next few years will bring for the open source commerce world, and I'd love to hear your opinion in the comments.

Skiing in France

While I love photography, I never really got into video. Because I'm not the guy to pull off flips on skis or jump out of planes, I never considered myself the target audience for a GoPro. However, I got a GoPro for Christmas and was eager to try it on a ski trip to the French Alps. Below is my first attempt at shooting and editing video. The French Alps are stunning and that alone is reason to watch the video. No doubt I have to hone my skills -- both shooting and in the editing room -- and it wouldn't hurt if I could pull off a flip on my skis either. ;-)

Content platform + user platform = BOOM!

Here is a very simple thesis on how to disrupt billion dollar industries:

Content platform + user platform = BOOM!

That is a bit cryptic, so let me explain.

Traditional retailers like RadioShack and Barnes & Noble were great "content platforms"; they have millions of products on shelves across thousands of physical stores. Amazon disrupted them by moving online, and Amazon was able to build an even better content platform with many more products. In addition, the internet enabled the creation of "user platforms". Amazon is a great user platform as it knows the interests of the 250 million customers it has on file; it uses that customer information to recommend products to buy. Amazon built a great content and user platform.

Businesses with a content platform that aren't investing in a user platform will most likely get disrupted. To understand why user platforms matter, take a look at a traditional media company like The New York Times -- one of the world's best content platforms, both online and offline. But it's also one of the world's poorest user platforms; they don't have a 1-on-1 relationship with all their readers. By aggregating the best content from many different sources, Flipboard is as good of a content platform as The New York Times, if not better. However, Flipboard is a much better user platform because all of its readers explicitly tell Flipboard what they are interested in and Flipboard matches content to users based on their interest. For The New York Times to survive, their strategy should be to invest in a better user platform: they should spend more time getting to know every single reader and serving curated content that matches the user's interest. The New York Times seems well aware of this problem, with its decision last week to host its articles directly on Facebook to get access to Facebook's user platform with 1.4 billion users.

Similarly, Netflix is disrupting both traditional broadcasters and cable companies because they built a great user platform capable of matching movies and shows to users. To many Netflix users' frustrations, traditional TV broadcasters still have the better content platform, but that hasn't stopped the growth of Netflix. Furthermore, Netflix is investing heavily in becoming a better content platform by producing their own shows, including original series such as House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black. Unless traditional broadcasters invest in becoming great user platforms and matching content to users, they risk losing against Netflix.

The challenge for newspaper organizations or cable providers is usually not with the technical evolution, but with changing their business model. Take the cable providers, for example. Legacy constraints like distribution models, FCC regulations and broadcast spectrum requirements prevent them from moving as fast in this direction as a Netflix might. Fortunately for most cable providers, they are also the internet providers, which allows them to become user platforms if they too can master the personalization and contextualization equation.

Facebook, Twitter, Apple and Google are some of the world's best user platforms; they know about their users' likes and dislikes, their location, their relationships and much more. For them, the opportunity is to become better content platforms and to match users with relevant products and articles. By organizing the world's information, Google is building a massive content platform, and by launching services like Gmail, Google+, Google Ads, Google Fiber and Google Wallet, they are building a massive user platform. Given that they have the world's largest content platform and the richest user platform, I have no doubt that Google could dominate the web the next couple of decades.

The examples above are focused on print media, television and radio, but the thinking can easily be extended to commerce, manufacturing, education, and much more. The thesis of content platforms adding user platforms (or vice versa) is very basic but also very powerful. Adding user platforms to existing content platforms enables a transformative change in the customer's user experience: content can find you, rather than you having to find content. Furthermore, brands are able to establish a 1-on-1 relationships with their customers allowing them to interact with them in a way they were never able to in the past. By establishing 1-on-1 relationships with their customers, brands will be able to "jump over" the traditional distribution channels. If we've learned one thing in the short history of the internet, it is that jumping over middlemen is a well-known recipe for success.

Anyone building a digital business should at least consider investing in building both a better content platform and a better user platform. It's no longer just about publishing content; it's about understanding what uniquely delights each user and using that information to manage the entire experience of a site visitor or customer over time. The idea of using interests, location, user feedback, past behavior and contextual information to deliver the best user experience is no longer a nice-to-have; it is becoming a make-or-break point. It is the next big challenge and opportunity for everyone building digital experiences. This is why I'm passionate about content management systems needing to evolve to digital experience management systems and why Acquia has spent the last two years building software that helps organizations build user platforms. As I talked and wrote about years ago, I believe personalization and contextualization will be a critical building block of the future of the web, and I'm excited to help make that a reality.

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Dries Buytaert is the original creator and project lead of Drupal and the co-founder and CTO of Acquia. He writes about Drupal, startups, business, photography and building the world we want to exist in.

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