The End of Websites As We Know Them: How AI Will Change The Way We Surf

The way we interact with websites is about to fundamentally change. For decades, the standard has been clicking around pages and hunting for information. But artificial intelligence is poised to disrupt this model entirely.

Before entering the AI arena I was in the world of web engineering. During that time I was fortunate enough to partner with many different companies and witnessed firsthand what good leadership and bad leadership looked like. I met with some very strong egos and humble ones. But there was one thing that I noticed about the best of the best. Of course there is the management style, velocity, calculated risk taking, etc. But what I noticed was that some of these CEOs had an understanding of the market that put them so far ahead of their competition, because they were able to pivot and plan for a future that no one else saw coming.

One of them was Dries Buytaert; creator of Drupal and founder/CTO of Acquia. Drupal for those that don’t know is an open source CMS and Acquia is a huge company that stands behind it and offers a suite of products. In 2015 Dries wrote a blog post titled; “The Big Reverse of the Web” and a year later he wrote another post titled; “Cross-channel user experiences with Drupal“. In both of these articles he discusses how people consume information from companies is going to fundamentally change, how it is already shifting from “pull” to “push”. 

What people really want is to tune into information rather than having to work to get information. It saves them time and effort and in the long run, an improved user experience always wins. In most cases, “Show me what I want” is more useful than “Let me search around and see what I can find”.

What does this mean for small to medium-size businesses? Are chatbots going to be the new way we browse the web? Are we even going to be browsing the web or is our AI assistant going to be so embedded in our lives that we wont even need to go online to get that pack of pencils for our children’s first day of school. “Wow, Wes is going to be in the 7th grade this year, according to the emails you received from his teacher, I have compiled a list of items and picked the best prices and added them for you to review, once you have confirmed or modified the cart, I can go ahead and make that purchase for you“.

Enter the chatbots

Chatbots powered by AI will become the new gatekeepers to website content. Rather than clicking through menus and pages, people will simply ask questions and AI assistants will provide answers directly from the site’s information. This conversational interface will become the norm, radically transforming website design priorities and user expectations.

For website owners, this shift represents an existential threat if they are unprepared. While visual design and layout have historically been main considerations, AI demands a whole new way of thinking. Websites must now prioritize strategies to make their content as machine-readable as possible. Your end-user might never even visit your site?! If you can get the AI’s attention and give it the right content, it will do the selling for you.

Semantic markup, structured data, and other optimization tactics will allow chatbots to easily interpret and deliver relevant website content through conversation. Without such preparations, AI assistants will only provide superficial or inadequate website information to users, making this a very scary time for a lot of companies.

The stakes are high, as habit formation around AI conversational interfaces is accelerating rapidly. Early adopters like Google Duplex that can call to book appointments on your behalf are just the beginning. As AI assistant usage becomes ubiquitous across devices, website interactions will naturally shift as well.

The companies that adapt to this new AI paradigm will gain a distinct competitive advantage. Site content will flow seamlessly through conversational interfaces, allowing users to get information and conduct transactions through simple dialogue.

Although Dries was way ahead of his time, what he saw coming is now around the corner. As far as leadership goes having a leader that can see ten years into the future is pretty cool. Now that you know this is coming what do you think you can do differently to be prepared?

I have a few ideas and will be providing them in my blog but if you want to chat about it please reach out to me here.