IN 2010, THE web died. Or so said the publication you’re reading right now.
In a WIRED cover story that summer, then-editor-in-chief Chris Anderson proclaimed the demise of the World Wide Web—that vast, interconnected, wonderfully egalitarian universe of internet pages and services we can visit through browser software running on computers of all kinds. We had, he said, departed the web for apps—those specialized, largely unconnected, wonderfully powerful tools we download onto particular types of phones and tablets. “As much as we love the open, unfettered Web,” he wrote, “we’re abandoning it for simpler, sleeker services that just work.”
At about the same time, Rahul Roy-Chowdhury took charge of the Google team that oversees Chrome, the company’s web browser. “I remember the ‘Web is Dead’ article very clearly,” he remembers. “I thought: ‘Oh My God. I’ve made a huge mistake.’” Needless to say, he didn’t really believe that. But there’s some truth in there somewhere. Though the web was hardly dead, it was certainly struggling in the face of apps. Six years later, however, Roy-Chowdhury believes the web is on the verge of a major resurgence, even as the world moves more and more of its Internet activities away from the desktop and onto phones.
As evidence, he points to the growing popularity of the mobile version of Chrome. This morning, as Google releases the latest incarnation of its browser, the company has revealed that a billion people now use Chrome on mobile devices each month—about the same number that use it on desktops and laptops.
But Roy-Chowdhury goes further still. After another six years of work, he says, Google and others have significantly improved the web’s underlying technologies to the point where services built for browsers can now match the performance of apps in some cases—and exceed it in others. “The web needed to adapt to mobile. And it was a rocky process. But it has happened,” he proclaims from a room inside the Google building that houses the Chrome and Android teams. “We’ve figured out.”