Word from inside Wired is the magazine is prepping a cover story in which editor Chris Anderson declares that "the Web is Dead." At a magazine founded by digital utopians, that would be something close to sacrilege.
Anderson is expected to argue that more tightly controlled corners of the internet, especially iPad and iPhone apps, are gradually supplanting the open Web as means of publishing and online networking. The digital prognosticator isn't alone in seeing such a trend; author Jeff Jarvis has publicly fretted over the rise apps. But Anderson's story would come at an especially touchy time within his magazine, where there's been a cold war between Anderson's print division and Wired Digital, which encompasses Wired.com and the community website Reddit.
The tensions were exacerbated in June when a local newspaper quoted Anderson seeming to diss Wired.com during a talk at the Rochester Institute of Technology:
Wired.com... looks like many media websites and actually carries little content from the magazine, Anderson said. While reading any magazine is supposed to be an immersive experience, with the design and long pieces keeping readers' attentions for prolonged sittings, none of those aspects translates well to the Web, he said.
"Long-form journalism becomes 16 pages you have to click through," he said. "So like everybody else, we flail on the Web."
Anderson also praised the Wired iPad app, which he and his creative director Scott Dadich oversee. Anderson said he was misquoted about Wired.com, in particular a section of the article in which he appeared to denigrate its financial results. And he said he was partly blaming himself for other problems: "I said the website was very successful, but that *I* (like many other magazine editors) had failed to find a way to make the magazine work as a magazine there. I was referring to my creative failure, not the site's business track record."
Anderson's right that it can be awkward to read long articles on the Web, at least as they are presently formatted. But it's also hard to dispute that his general enthusiasm for the iPad over the Web reflects the consensus thinking among Condé Nast executives who have not made much money off their websites and who tend to prefer a platform that lets them easily charge for content and easily duplicate the formatting of print.
A "web is dead" cover story would just reignite a heated internal debate over whether Condé has underinvested in Wired Digital, which contains Condé's two most successful websites, Wired.com and Reddit, and put too much into its magazines, which have seen revenue decline sharply, and into its iPad apps, which increasingly get first shot at magazine content after it runs in print. And it would invite a comparison between Anderson's philosophy and that of Wired founders Jane and Louis Rossetto, countercultural futurists who put the Web and the open standards that enabled it at the heart of the utopian "digital revolution" they predicted — and relentlessly promoted in the pages of their magazine.
Anderson, for his part, told us "we never comment on our stories (or confirm or deny
speculation about what they may or may not say) before they're published. We also cover test lots of ideas that we don't run."
Maybe this is one of those rejected tests: "Web is Dead" is certainly provocative, but it could easily become infamous—like the 1997 front (above) telling readers to "kiss your browser goodbye" because it would be replaced by faddish "push" systems like PointCast (Anderson wasn't editor at the time). The Apple App Store will last much longer than Pointcast did, but the Web is getting stronger by the day.
(Update: Anderson got back to us about the Rochester article, elaborating on his Wired.com thoughts. We've added some of his comments to the post.)
[Photo of Anderson via Roo Reynolds/Flickr]