Photo by Ethan Hein

Every now and then I notice a change in the way I use the internet. Generally speaking, I’ll make adjustments as I go – trying and abandoning new services, sometimes making different things part of my everyday life, and occasionally radically transforming my workflow (always for the better, as it happens).

I have several driving forces when it comes to this stuff. I like things that are shiny, new and well-designed. I like minimalism – both aesthetically and in terms of use, and so any reduction in complexity is always welcomed. I’m also quite extraordinarily lazy, but I like getting an awful lot of things done, which is always a tension I try and resolve by finding the best and easiest ways to achieve a great deal.

I’ve just started to notice that what I do online is quite fundamentally different from what I had been doing until quite recently – and it’s like a long-overdue justification of something I’ve been saying for about eight years now: The Internet is like electricity.

Here’s an excerpt from an article I wrote a while back which explains what I mean when I say the Internet is like electricity.

One really helpful way to think about the internet is to consider it as analogous to electricity. It’s this enabling technology into which you can plug all sorts of appliances that do really useful things. You can plug something as simple as a lightbulb into an electric socket, or as complex as a plasma TV. These things are known as ‘appliances’. Consider the humble toaster.

Now there are appliances that can be plugged into the internet too. Web browsers, peer-to-peer clients, email software, instant messaging programmes, download managers, streaming media players, RSS aggregators, FTP software and so on. I don’t believe for a second that we’ve invented all of the appliances we’re ever going to encounter either. And I think there are some people who find themselves trying to achieve tasks using online tools and appliances that were simply not designed for the job.

I mean, while it’s theoretically possible to dry your hair with a toaster, it’s so much easier to use something that was purpose-built to achieve that task. I believe there are a great many musicians, promoters, managers, marketers and publishers trying to get existing internet appliances to fulfill a function for which they are ill-suited. For that reason, I believe one of the most important things that creative businesses can do is work with technologists to help design the online equivalent of the hairdryer (that purpose-built appliance that does the job of pushing the hot air where it’s most needed).

Web 3.0 doesn’t involve a browser
It really started to kick off for me with apps on the iPhone, but I’ve noticed that even on the Macbook, I’ve become less reliant on a web browser to perform daily internet tasks.

Instead of trying to use the toaster to dry my hair, I’m using internet hairdryers.

For reading RSS feeds, I use NetNewsWire.
For email, I use Mac Mail.
For writing blog posts (like this one) I use MarsEdit.
For to-do lists, I use Things.
For moving files around, I use DropBox.
For finding and downloading images like the one above, I use Viewfinder.
For uploading video, I use the Vimeo Desktop uploader.
For Twitter, I use Tweetie.
For listening to music I don’t already own, I use Spotify.
For uploading photos to Facebook and Flickr, I use iPhoto’09.
I’m tempted to try Acquisition to find and download files.

These are all things that, at one time or another in the past, I have used a web browser to accomplish. Now I use a browser for none of these things, and this makes me happy.

One job, one app. Design simplicity. Why use a Swiss Army Knife, when what you really need is a pair of scissors?

Or, why continue to use a toaster to dry your hair? We have hairdryers now.

And the crucial factor is that some of those appliances are vastly superior to the web-environment services they replace. I already use MarsEdit, NetNewsWire and Tweetie about as much as I use Safari or Firefox. DropBox is a godsend.

And between the Vimeo Uploader and iPhoto, I’ve probably uploaded as much web content as I’ve downloaded over the past few months. Could do with an ISP package that reflected that, actually.