December 10, 2010

Mobile, One Web, RWD &c – an unbuffered comment

Jeremy Keith’s blog post entitled ‘One web‘ is good summary of many of the points of view around designing and developing web sites and services for mobile devices. I think he has a staggered commenting system, so I thought I’d share my response here in the meantime. Don’t worry; it’s not inflammatory (or at least, is not meant to be!)

I’m still convinced there’s something bigger going on here.

The (paraphrased) ‘one-url-for-one-document’ mantra is great when the web is one of essentially immutable documents.

But isn’t it time to bust through this assumption? – as we (and even consumers) start to think of the web as being more one of apps? One which should flex and adapt to give the user the best experience (by which I include content, functionality as well as user interface and pixels) possible, given everything we can divine about the human using it?

If an application is to provide the service that its user needs, the more clues about what that human is doing the better. If they are using a mobile device, there’s already a big clue about what that user’s state might be. I’m intrigued by things like Nokia’s Situations project too, as it permits more insight into what the user is doing, where they are, and what state of mind they’re in. Imagine how you might be able to optimize a web experience – to the human – given such clues!

So as you can tell, I’m excited about this. A far more fluid web that is truly responsive like this. Responsive to human context (in all its possible forms) and not just the temporary challenge of smaller numbers of pixels. It’s not that I’m not a fan of RWD – just that it’s far too superficial to help move the web to this higher plane.

However, I also still believe in ‘thematic consistency’, by which the W3C means that the same URL should get you to the same content. BUT that is not the same as saying that the same users actually want to use the same content or that web providers want to give it to them.

In practical terms, this might mean promoting or demoting certain types of content that the designer thinks are more or less useful for users known to be in the mobile context. (I’ve talked about promoting ‘contact us’ from the conventional end-of-secondary-menu to front-and-foremost on mobile sites, for example.)

But why not create entirely separate services? I certainly don’t find it condescending when a user-interface designer has thought about what I actually want to do in a given context. More likely I’ll be thrilled.

And by the way, with this point of view, separate URLs or domains are entirely consistent: “we don’t mind which device you actually use, but you should be aware that the content on our mobile URL is better suited to humans on the move”.

Finally I should add that this is really nothing more controversial than using country-code top level domains. The reason there is an amazon.co.uk is because users in the ‘UK context’ want (or need to be given) different content and functionality. No-one ever complains about detecting IP ranges to encourage users from different countries to go to the best service for their likely location.

I’m a proud citizen of Mobile Web country ;-)

Comments (28)

  1. December 10, 2010
    Igor Faletski said...

    Mobile URLs, really? That sounds like returning to the dotMobi era ;)

    In a world driven by social discovery & search, end users can’t be expected to pick and choose between URLs. They’ll just click whatever’s presented to them by Twitter, Google or Facebook. If the website is context-aware enough to redirect them to a mobile experience on a mobile URL, that’s pretty good. But if you’ve implemented the redirect, why not have the right logic & styles to serve mobile functionality on that very first link?

    The key idea is of course the fact that mobile web is not a zero sum game. There’ll be a place for native apps, Sencha mobile webapps and mobified websites. It always depends on the use case.

  2. December 10, 2010
    James said...

    Right: I am fairly sure that users don’t really care about the URL of what they are looking at, but it seems that the W3C and one-web advocates do. (And probably crawlers etc etc)

    But actually the main thrust of my argument is not as petty as domains, redirection, SEO and the like.

    It’s about elevating the web to be more than a variously-styled, document-centric thing. I want it to become a pervasive medium which will envelop the human species with whatever it wants, wherever and whenever it wants it – and which acknowledges that the chances of the former not varying with the latter is *highly* unlikely.

    But this is a tough conceptual step for us all to take, I think.

  3. December 10, 2010

    [...] on long before the .mobi TLD was launched in 2005. In the past couple of days, Jeremy Keith and James Pearce wrote up some good articles on the subject. Will the mobile context require different URLs? Should [...]

  4. December 10, 2010
    Jeremy Keith said...

    Hi James,

    An explanation about the commenting system on adactio.com appears right above the comment form:

    “You can leave a comment before 5:33pm on Sunday, December 12th, at which time all the comments will be published and no more comments will be accepted.”

    And there’s a link to more details: http://adactio.com/journal/1180/

    Now, onto your comment…

    You say:

    “The (paraphrased) ‘one-url-for-one-document’ mantra is great when the web is one of essentially immutable documents.

    But isn’t it time to bust through this assumption? – as we (and even consumers) start to think of the web as being more one of apps? ”

    That’s why I said “most of the time” and why I said:

    “Maybe Garrett is onto something when he says:
    ‘It seems responsive pages are best for content while dedicated mobile pages are best for interactive applications.’”

    So I think we are in agreement.

    That said, I think it’s very rare that something is clearly an application or clearly a document. Almost everything on the web is a mixture of the two.

    My previous blog post, a brief list of false dichotomies, clarifies this: http://adactio.com/journal/1714/

    Interestingly, one of the other false dichotomies I mention there is the split between mobile and desktop. Just as with documents and applications, it isn’t clear at all anymore what constitutes a mobile device or a desktop device.

    So while I agree that applications should probably be tailored to individual services, the tricky part is defining what constitutes an application (that’s partly why I concentrated on a clearly content-based site with the example of The Guardian).

  5. February 19, 2011
    Rachel Youens said...

    Some of the biggest challenge we see with clients coming to us with mobile websites is wanting to directly translate their site. The difference in mobile is so much more than just size, it’s the entire use case. I think in the future we’re going to start seeing more and more mobile web specialists who understand precisely how people use mobile web in every scenario. The idea of a clipped down view not only for mobile but for location doesn’t bother me, but I think we just need to start getting a much deeper understanding of what people want from a mobile. Clearly they want more than some bare, WAP looking junk, but less than a full experience. If someone we could even let people tailor their mobile site to exactly the view they like (particularly for blogs) it would be all the better.

  6. March 10, 2011
    Peter Cranstone said...

    Hi James,

    Interesting comment “Responsive to human context (in all its possible forms) and not just the temporary challenge of smaller numbers of pixels.”

    The problem is how do you enable the web to “know real time context”. We’ve been working on that problem for 5 years and came up with a solution. You can now know in real time the context of the user, the device and their location.

    We even adapted it to solve the “you can’t measure real time HTTP traffic inside the mobile browser” problem.

    The future of the web is contextual. To deliver on the anytime, anywhere, any screen promise the web must know Who I am, What device I’m using and Where I am (whilst preserving my privacy).

    Cheers,

    Peter
    5o9 Inc.

  7. June 12, 2011
    Shenita Rannels said...

    Just doing googling about mobile, and i found this great article

  8. June 21, 2011
    tv online said...

    Have you already setup a fan page on Facebook ?

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  10. August 26, 2011

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  11. September 13, 2011
    Bert said...

    Everyone loves your web blog! Have you got a facebook or myspace page? I’d like to meet up and talk about a few things. Appreciate all of your work.

  12. October 4, 2011
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  13. December 20, 2011
    Dee said...

    Hey, this is an interesting article. I am not much of a techie but I find this an interesting read.

  14. January 27, 2012
    Alex said...

    Hi James, just wondered what your thoughts were in relation to the need to optimise for mobile browsers?

    I run PlayVille.org and am looking to have a series of HTML5 content created to accommodate for devices that do not have flash, but is it worth it in your eyes?

  15. February 6, 2012
    Curtis Leaver said...

    Thanks for taking the time to discuss this, I feel strongly about this and love learning more on this topic. If at all possible, while you gain expertise, can you mind updating your site with increased information? It is very ideal for me.

  16. February 17, 2012
    kelly said...

    In a world driven by social discovery & search, end users can’t be expected to pick and choose between URLs. They’ll just click whatever’s presented to them by Twitter, Google or Facebook. If the website is context-aware enough to redirect them to a mobile experience on a mobile URL, that’s pretty good. But if you’ve implemented the redirect, why not have the right logic & styles to serve mobile functionality on that very first link?

  17. March 13, 2012
    Griffey Shoes said...

    I am not much of a techie but I find this an interesting read.

  18. March 29, 2012
    Online Games said...

    Hello. Are you an expert blogger?

  19. July 18, 2012

    Wow, amazing blog layout! How long have you been blogging for? you made blogging look easy. The overall look of your website is magnificent, let alone the content!

  20. February 22, 2013

    There are some attention-grabbing closing dates on this article however I don’t know if I see all of them middle to heart. There may be some validity however I’ll take maintain opinion until I look into it further. Good article , thanks and we would like more! Added to FeedBurner as nicely

  21. May 21, 2013
    himanshu said...

    That’s the piece of information, i agree with Peter trying to say that the future of the web is contextual.

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