It's been four years since Wired declared the web was dead, but the darn thing keeps hanging on. Sites you may have heard of, such as The Verge, continue to build real businesses on the web, and without the help of a dedicated mobile app. Still, study after study finds that we increasingly spend our time inside apps, not the mobile web, and that raises some disturbing questions about what kind of world we're experiencing. Because while the web is a portal to anything and everything, apps are quite often self-contained capsules, with little to link them to other experiences or information.
Wildcard, a New York City startup founded by Jordan Cooper, is hoping to change that. It's launching an app, ironically, that hopes to be the world's best mobile browser and search engine, combining the depth of the open web with the ease of native app interfaces. It does that by turning web pages into cards and translating HTML into clean "cards" we can easily swipe and tap.
"Suddenly you're on a web page full of tiny text and images."
"Nobody wants to click a link from an email and end up on the mobile web," says Cooper. "Suddenly you're on a web page full of tiny text and images, you have to pinch to zoom in, scroll around, and literally click on tiny blue links. It's miserable." Shopping is another pain point. "Filling in your billing information, your size, your address, is all way too tough on most mobile sites."
When you open up the WildCard app it shows you a list of trending topics. "Comet landing" was trending this morning when I opened it up. Clicking on that took me to a list of cards from CNN, NPR, and other news outlets. Each had a clean headline, a bit of text describing the article, and a photo. Clicking through brought me to a clean, easy-to-scroll version of the full text. The app also serves up a news digest for things like tech, sports or politics, and sections aimed at searches like flu season or good home brew coffee.
In the flu and coffee sections some of the cards offer up an item for purchase. Like Spring, the card interface here makes it very easy to check out images, choose your size and color, and buy when you're ready. You enter your information into WildCard once, and it will handle payments to any merchant.
"Some searches we do great on, some we don't."
Unfortunately, when I tried to simply search the open web, instead of the prepackaged selections Wildcard was serving me, things kind of fell apart. The results were very limited, out-of-date, and sometimes just way off topic. "Search needs people using it in order for the results to get more relevant, kind of like Siri in the early days," says Cooper. "Some searches we do great on, some we don't, but five months from now, the search experience will be much much more robust. We're just choosing to improve in public. This definitely isn't a 'we did it'moment for us so much as a 'here's the beginning' moment."
When it worked, for example searching through a collection of Ikea furniture, the Wildcard experience was far easier and more intuitive than what I found going through a Google or Siri search from my phone. If the company can get enough momentum to really translate a big chunk of the web into cards, I can see it being my go-to browser for certain searches. For now, it's a great idea that still needs a lot of work.