From Internet to Splinternet: Marketing Implications

By Gary Kim February 15, 2011

The Internet is evolving into what Forrester Research calls the “Splinternet.” Despite concern some express about "protecting the Internet" from breaking up into private, semi-walled or substantially private domains, that already is happening at a rapid rate. Where once uniform and standardized, "the Web" no longer exists, according to  Sharyn Leaver, Forrester Research analyst.

Proprietary smartphones, TVs with streaming connections, iPads and Kindles are part of the change. Each device ecosystem is substantially walled off from the rest of the public Internet, offering a curated experience. In addition to that, nations routinely filter, censor and otherwise create national versions of the Internet. Beyond that, there are end-user-created communities of interest around language and culture as well. 

There are implications for enterprise information technology executives and policies, Forrester Research said. Enterprises will face a new "Splinternet" age that will likely be chaotic. Though there have been many advantages to an "open" Internet based on standards, in the new age proprietary software and hardware will be important. The Apple iPhone and iPad provide examples. 

At least in part as a reaction, rival ecosystems will be created, further "balkanizing" the landscape. Facebook, Android and many online video ecosystems, not to mention various smartphone ecosystems, are examples. The implications for marketing outreach are clear enough: it will become harder to fashion programs that have in the past assumed uniformity of protocols and environments. 

In a growing number of cases, user experiences will occur behind log-in walls that create semi-hidden or fully-hidden experiences unavailable to software from outside the walled gardens. 

Essentially, the traditional issues of device fragmentation in the mobile handset world will start to replicate more broadly throughout the broader Internet world as well. 

Until recently, developers and marketers could assume that all Web experiences were mediated by PCs, with a high degree of standardization. But that increasingly will be challenged as more users access Internet and web services from a variety of somewhat or largely incompatible devices, running proprietary software, said Josh Bernoff and Shar VanBoskirk, Forrester Research analysts. Some devices, such as Kindles, will affect developers and applications because such devices, though supporting Web application access, do so without support for color, for example, and some devices might not support full Web browsing. 

Online video services and applications also will further shape the nature of experiences, as most are expected to use proprietary access, widgets or browsers. At the same time, many content providers are putting former Web-accessible content behind paywalls. All of that means a much more difficult management environment for enterprises, and tougher challenges for marketers. 

Up to this point, marketers could assume that the Web was open, not subject to control by various gatekeepers. But the number of gatekeepers is growing. Apple controls the iPhone and iPad environemnts. Microsoft controls the XBox ecosystem, while Facebook controls its own ecosystem as well. 

As the Web splinters into the new age of the “Splinternet,” companies, not standards bodies, rule interactive elements. The days of standardized web-established links, click-throughs, and analytics are over. CIOs must re-evaluate their current web-based systems and help their CMO counterparts pursue these new incompatible formats to get closer to customers, Forrester Research said. 

Gary Kim is a contributing editor for TechZone360. To read more of Gary’s articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Juliana Kenny

Contributing Editor

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