May 9, 2012

The Web vs. the Cloud: Which Metaphor Survives?

shutterstock_67980958%20%28150%20px%29.j Ask yourself this: Would you install ReadWriteWeb as an app? You might, if you were convinced that it did something useful for you, and if you didn't have to pay much (or anything) for it. You may already have installed Dropbox, and services like Pinterest and LinkedIn are now smartphone apps. Can you foresee a time when you won't need a browser to do the things you do online? And if so, would you miss it much?

Metaphors are fickle things. Given enough time, they cease to apply to the concept for which they were created (e.g., "conservative," "socialist," "reality show") and just hang on as labels, often arcane references to ideals pertinent to an earlier age.

Just what the Web is today depends upon whom you ask. A recent list of what are frequently called the "most valuable Web startups" is topped by the following six entries: Facebook, Zynga, Groupon,, Twitter and Dropbox. The common factor among them, in the context of everyday conversation, is that they're considered Web businesses. The keyword here is "considered." If you ask CEO Marc Benioff, Facebook already ate the Web and is licking up the remains.

Insert Cloud Here

Perhaps more than any other company, Salesforce represents the perspective of "the cloud;" and from this point of view, the cloud is the technology that is driving the Internet today and not the Web. Salesforce was founded in 1999, just four years prior to Facebook, although the phrase "cloud startup" has yet to be used to refer to Salesforce. Instead, when Salesforce itself becomes an investor in a new company, and it characterizes that company as a "cloud startup" as opposed to a "Web startup," then by gum, it's a "cloud startup." Otherwise, it might be considered a "Web startup."

The lesson here would appear to be that a company that builds in the cloud is building a platform like Heroku, or a mobile app framework like Appirio.  But if that's the case, then Facebook should be a cloud startup, too. If any company in history is responsible for deploying a successful platform, it's Facebook. After all, company No. 2 on the list - Zynga - is a user of that platform, and one of the fastest-growing companies ever.

Which makes Zynga what? As the most important user and chief validator of the Facebook platform, Zynga is what Salesforce would perceive as an outgrowth of the online social phenomenon - the force that Benioff says is helping Facebook and Twitter eat the Web. More users are accessing Facebook and Twitter through mobile apps - or, as they're being called more frequently these days, "apps." As such, they are bypassing browsers, and in so doing steering clear of the one portal that most users associate with "the Web." When someone the other day saw me checking Twitter through a browser, he looked at me as though I had just started tapping a telegraph key. "What are you doing??" he asked.

Stock image by Shutterstock

Read more at ReadWriteCloud