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Embracing Change Add-on-Con 2010

In its September cover story, Wired magazine loudly claimed that the World Wide Web as we know it is dead. Though the article had a flashy, dramatic headline and was based on stats that were, at the very least, misleading, it also contained some insightful observations about the future of the Internet. There is no doubt that we are witnessing critical changes in the way the average consumer uses the web today – and that this transformation cannot be dismissed.

As the founders of Add-on-Con, it is our opinion that there’s a growing chasm between the current state of the add-on browser ecosystem and the evolution of the Web.

We think that add-on developers are increasingly focused on a legacy concept, the browser itself and the URL, and that this concentration is detrimental to the add-on ecosystem. Instead, we posit that developers should be more focused on creating applications that enhance the user experience of the Internet. This has not been an easy conclusion for us to reach, as our event is sponsored by browser vendors and is held for attendees that build software that extend the functionality of the browser itself.

The two do not have to be mutually exclusive, however, and as program chairs, we have struggled over the past few years with how the browser add-on business will compete and evolve in the face of the meteoric growth of the mobile web, large web properties, and the coming appification of the web.

Last year Add-on-Con focused on marketplaces, and overwhelming the community came to the conclusion that distribution and monetization are part of the problem facing the current add-on ecosystem, but they are not the actual root cause. To identify the real problem, one must revisit what the data revealed in the Wired article: Thanks to new technologies, improved standards, and the proliferation of connected devices, the Web is evolving beyond the URL.

The movements of big players in the industry indicate that this shift away from the traditional browser/URL model is already underway. On the browser vendor side, Google’s Chrome Web Store and Mozilla’s recently announced Open Web App Ecosystem are initiatives that signify a new identity for the Web and its browsers. Today, leading add-on companies have augmented their strategies with websites, widgets, and mobile and desktop apps.

Over the past two years, the community has assembled every December to discuss solutions to the obstacles facing the ecosystem. The goal of this year’s conference is to move the conversation away from extending the browser to one that discusses how we can make the Internet a better place for work, play and research.

The Internet has changed how people communicate and share and now it is undergoing a transformation of its own. The “appification” of the Web is a major contributor to this shift, and the actions of the browser vendors and leading add-on companies reflect this change in priorities. The question we have to ask ourselves as engineers and marketers, “are we ready to embrace this change?”