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 ;-)

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