Is this the beginning of the end of websites?

Is this the beginning of the end of websites?
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In the future, I believe we will interact with businesses primarily through AI bots, rather than via traditional websites. “Browsing the web” will be as normal and natural as asking a friend for information.

So what does that mean for your AMPed up, SEO-friendly, responsive website? Gone—only maintained as a fallback for legacy browsers.

No more navigating confusing menus. No more annoying pop-ups. No more cookie consent.
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In its place you’ll have your own fancy AI bot. It’ll have its own personality, and know everything about your brand, products and services. 🤯

Dries Buytaert, the founder of Drupal CMS, recently shared a post about AI and the future of content management on the web. In it he talks about how AI will likely disintermediate traditional search engines.

A search engine acts as a middleman between you and the information you're seeking. It, too, will be disintermediated, and AI seems to be the best way of disintermediating it.

I agree, but I would go one step further and say, your website is also a glorified middleman.

Think about it for a second, why exactly does someone need to go to your website? Today, it’s because it’s your primary address on the web where you can present information about your company, products and services.

But what if your users could interact with your own AI bot instead?

After all, your AI bot would be able to better assess their needs and provide more personalized and accurate responses to their inquiries. Compared to what users must do today, that sounds like a much more engaging, delightful, and efficient user experience.

So, How Would it Work?

At first, I expect many AI bots will simply live on traditional websites, providing an alternative experience for users. It’s easy and this makes sense. However, over the next few years, I see two possible scenarios where AI bots will supersede traditional websites.

Scenario 1x

We will likely see the rise of super apps in Western countries. What’s a super app you ask? Here’s an explantation I like from Andreessen Horowitz:

In brief, a super app is an application that builds upon its core functionality to mix and mash a bunch of seemingly unrelated services — but ones the user would need or want to do anyway — into one place. Imagine a single app that allows you to shop for groceries, pay your rent, review work documents, refill prescriptions, book a trip, and chat with friends, interest groups, and businesses — that’s a super app. Sounds more like your entire iPhone than one app, right? That’s because it essentially is.
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Graphic from The China-Britain Business Council (CBBC)

iMessage, WhatsApp, Microsoft Teams and Twitter are all positioning themselves to compete in this space. Once these platforms begin offering a robust marketplace for third-party chatbots, I think we will see the accelerated decline of traditional websites.

Scenario 2

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The new AI-powered Microsoft Bing and Edge browser

Browser makers like Microsoft and Opera have already expressed interest in reinventing the browsing experience and integrated ChatGPT into their products. What if they they get inspired to do something a bit more radical—like I don’t know, replacing the browser itself with an AI chatbot.

Websites would be AI personas that can interact with each other and with users in a conversational UI.

For example, imagine you’re looking to plan a weekend trip to a new city. Today, you might start by searching for travel guides and recommendations online, sifting through pages of results and user reviews to find the best options. It's tedious.

However, in this scenario, you would tell the Kayak bot what you have planned and in milliseconds, it would coordinate with various airline, hotel and car rental bots to provide itinerary suggestions with recommendations for activities, restaurants, travel and accommodations. It would even handle the booking process and provide any ongoing support you need during the trip. Boom!

Emerging Technologies

Beyond this, these scenarios also have implications for a future with augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR). As these technologies continue to evolve, users will increasingly interact with the internet and various businesses and services in a more immersive and interactive way.

Augmented Reality

In the future, when you step our in your cool Apple iGlass, or pop in your fancy Samsung Lens, the web will be a virtual layer seamlessly integrated and blended with the physical world. Walking around town and see a new restaurant that you want to check out? Don’t expect to see some weird, translucent, floating webpage. That would be seriously wack. Instead, the restaurant’s AI bot will welcome and engage you in your native language. It can show you the menu, answer any questions you have, and even make reservations.

Virtual Reality

The metaverse will be the web in a virtual 3D world. It will be all centered around immersive experiences and will be even more fascinating. Traditional websites will have no place here. Imagine Amazon being a virtual store with Alexa, who will act as your personal shopping concierge. Ask Alexa for whatever you want, and like magic you watch the store transform around you with various product options.

AI bots will undoubtedly become increasingly sophisticated and capable in the years to come. Of course, this shift will take time and won't happen overnight. Relax, there will still be a need for traditional websites for some time! However, business can and should start thinking strategically about how they can explore opportunities to develop and train their own AI bots today.

In fact, the recent release and drastic reduction in cost of the ChatGPT API is already a game-changer. This means that with the current technology available, any business can now provide personalized customer support, offer tailored recommendations, and even create virtual assistants to help users with a variety of tasks.

As designers, we have a responsibility to shepherd in this change, encouraging more debate and dialog around how AI should be used ethically and responsibly, and most importantly designing the experiences and interfaces of the future we want.

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