The Web Began Dying in 2014, Here’s How
By Andre Staltz
Oct 30 2017
Before the year 2014, there were many people using Google, Facebook, and Amazon. Today, there are still many people using services from those three tech giants (respectively, GOOG, FB, AMZN). Not much has changed, and quite literally the user interface and features on those sites has remained mostly untouched. However, the underlying dynamics of power on the Web have drastically changed, and those three companies are at the center of a fundamental transformation of the Web.
It looks like nothing changed since 2014, but GOOG and FB now have direct influence over 70%+ of internet traffic.
Internet activity itself hasn’t slowed down. It maintains a steady growth, both in amount of users and amount of websites:
What has changed over the last 4 years is market share of traffic on the Web. It looks like nothing has changed, but GOOG and FB now have direct influence over 70%+ of internet traffic. Mobile internet traffic is now the majority of traffic worldwide and in Latin America alone, GOOG and FB services have had 60% of mobile traffic in 2015, growing to 70% by the end of 2016. The remaining 30% of traffic is shared among all other mobile apps and websites. Mobile devices are primarily used for accessing GOOG and FB networks.
The press, unlike before, depends on GOOG-FB to stay in business.
Another demonstration of GOOG and FB dominance can be seen among media websites. The most popular web properties that don’t belong to GOOG nor FB are usually from the press. For instance, in the USA there are 6 media sites in the top 10 websites; in Brazil there are 6 media sites in the top 10; in UK it is 5 out 10.
From where do media sites get their traffic? Prior to 2014, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) was a common practice among Web Developers to improve their site for Google searches, since it accounted for approximately 35% of traffic, while more than 50% of traffic came from various other places on the Web. SEO was important, while Facebook presence was nice-to-have. Over the next 3 years, traffic from Facebook grew to be approximately 45%, surpassing the status that Search traffic had. In 2017, the Media depends on both Google and Facebook for page views, since it’s the majority of their traffic.
The relationship between media sites and the two tech giants is difficult. In 2014, FB built Facebook Paper as an attempt to have a larger control over news consumption. Their tactic failed, but their strategy persisted through different means such as Facebook Instant Articles. The media, being dependent on social traffic and threatened by the social behemoth, reacted. They pulled out support for Instant Articles.
Meanwhile, GOOG notices how its Search traffic hadn’t improved, while Facebook had picked up steam, so GOOG launches their Instant Articles alternative called Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) and proactively starts serving articles from GOOG servers instead of directing traffic to media sites. The press reacts similarly to how they did for FB: reported bold stories about the Search behemoth’s thirst for control over news consumption.
GOOG and FB ceased competing directly, focusing on what they do best instead.
Data shows FB has dramatically improved its dominance on the Web, while Google Search hasn’t significantly changed. How exactly did FB achieve that, and what events were key to that development? Prior to 2014, both companies had a portfolio of multiple web services. GOOG hadn’t yet become Alphabet, so it’s focus was difused. GOOG was trying to enter the social market, first with Google Wave, then Google Buzz, Orkut, and Google+. In total, GOOG has acquired 18 companies from the social media category, of which only 1 acquisition happened post-2014, while 5 of those happened in 2010 alone. FB was competing in the search market, through Bing, in partnership with MSFT.
During 2014, FB apparently reorganized itself to focus on social only. In February, it bought WhatsApp, for 11 times the price GOOG bought YouTube. In December, it canceled its Bing partnership with MSFT. User retention on Facebook.com grew steadily (see chart below). Through its four simple products, Facebook, WhatsApp, Messenger, and Instagram, FB had become the social superpower.