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Killer Apps: Will Small Business Mourn Death of the Web?

Wired Editor-in-Chief Chris Anderson sees the move from browser-based consumption toward mobile apps as a sign that the days of the web’s hegemony are numbered. The cover of the magazine’s September issue says it all: "The Web is Dead."

If Anderson is right, what does this mean for small- and medium-size businesses that have a web-based business model? Will they have to play catch-up in the apps game to stay in business? The issue stirs deep emotions.

"This is complete bull**** and was a media effort to get coverage for the magazine," Derek Johnson told BusinessNewsDaily. "The Internet isn't dead. It's just becoming alive. Apps are cool, but the browser is where the focus has been and will be for years to come."

Johnson is CEO of Tatango, a startup with five employees that has developed a subscription-based group text messaging service that can be accessed through the web or mobile phone. Because Tatango's focus is solely on the 140-character SMS world, Johnson sees no need to develop a mobile app for the service.

"If you live by SMS, you connect by SMS. "The website browser is easy enough to use," he said. "We would rather build other features that are more important right now."

For most businesses, Johnson believes, having a mobile-enabled website is an adequate strategy for reaching mobile customers.

Two-track strategy

James Roberts offers a slightly more sanguine take on the state of the web's health. He is managing partner of the Global Capital Law Group and CEO at Global Capital Strategic Group, and advises companies in the app space.

"To paraphrase Mark Twain, the rumors of the death of the web have been greatly exaggerated," he said. "There will always be things you cannot find without going to the web. It is true that there is a massive shift to apps and that will continue, no matter what. The question is: When? Five years at a minimum and more like ten years. In five years time, the web will not be dead, but apps will be experiencing astronomical growth."

His advice for companies relying on the web: "Create the app."

Businesses should develop a two-track strategy that embraces both the web and mobile apps to connect with customers, says Nikunji Mittal, CEO of Rent A Smile, an online virtual assistant and concierge service for small- and medium-size businesses. When the service launched, customers were given three ways to connect with the company: e-mail, web portal and phone.  The company is now adding mobile apps to its offering.

"I don't completely agree with Chris Anderson that the web is dead or will be in the near future," he said. "However, there is no doubting the fact that a larger audience than ever before is engaging content and services through mobile apps. At Rent A Smile, we have recognized the growing importance of mobile communications and have recently launched our service on the Blackberry Messenger.  We are in the process of developing a full-fledged Blackberry application for our online assistant service. Once the Blackberry is done, we’ll take up the iPhone. When the iPhone is done, we’ll go after the Android."

In addition to facilitating mobile transactions, the app icon also serves as a memory prompt, Mittal said, reminding users of the service.

"It's always there with you," he said, "It's always on."

It goes both ways

Kimberly Unger is coming at the question from the opposite direction. She's the CEO of a small mobile game startup, Bushi-go, and is debating how to make the web work for her mobile app.

"We are looking at just this issue right now, trying to make the decision to push our upcoming app backwards onto the web after we release it on mobile, or if we are just going to stay mobile," Unger said. "We're not so ready to follow Wired's recommendation that the Web is dead. The whole web question for us is a big one."

Before the  the smart phone, the web was essential part of a game developer’s tool kit and represented the best way to get a game out.

"It was proof that you had a product that would be played," Unger said

She believes that even in a mobile-app-centric world, the web is still going to play a significant role.

"The web will remain to go-to place to test things and float new ideas," Unger said. "For serious content gathering, most people still go to the web. Mobile is always going to have a problem with screen size and memory."