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Mobile Web: Friend or Foe?

Whenever I need some inspiration in regards to web design, or even the web in general, I turn to a particular blog – “The Haystack.”  It was created by a fellow blogger, Stephen Hay, who has been living and working in Leeuwarden, the Netherlands since 1992.  Since 1995, he has been designing for the web and his roots as a designer and art director in corporate identity / packaging design and advertising served as a foundation for his current work as a web design and development strategist through his own user experience consultancy Zero Interface.  Stephen is a popular speaker on the subjects of CSS, web accessibility, and open web standards.  He has also published several articles on these subjects.

Needless to say, his wisdom is something I have come to depend on.

Recently, he posted a blog titled There is no Mobile Web in which he discusses in detail the reasoning behind a tweet that declared his thoughts on the Web.  He posted on Twitter- There is no Mobile Web.  There is only The Web, which we view in different ways.  There is also no Desktop Web.  Or Tablet Web.  Thank you.”

Interestingly, he unexpectantly received an enormous amount of re-tweets, which he hopes meant that most people understood what he meant.  However, there were also those who did not quite understand what he was trying to say, as well as those who just flat out disagreed.

I understood perfectly what Hay was trying to say in regards to Mobile Web.  From a practicality standpoint, it made perfect sense.  But what would this world be without the individuals who feel the need to argue about something most likely for the sake of arguing.  Regardless, for anyone reading this right now that does not quite follow along with Hay’s thought process, let me explain in further detail.

He explains that most sites on the web are not built with specific mobile use-cases in mind.  This is obvious, however millions of people access these sites every day through their mobile devices.  They access typical websites through their “mobile” devices.  In these instances, the presentation of the content on mobile devices is potentially important.  Hay goes on to declare that that the intrinsic characteristics of this content on the mobile platform are just as important; take image size as an example.  Manufacturers cater to the users of “non-mobile” websites on mobile devices via things like zoom, which although inconsistent across devices, makes viewing most websites on a smartphone bearable.  Developers can do their part by adjusting the served content or the presentation.

With that said, simply adjusting the presentation of content or pieces of content on a website does not, in Hay’s opinion, constitute a “mobile website”.  He still believes it is just a website for which the developers have considered the users of mobile devices and adjusted certain things accordingly.

Hay shared some valuable wisdom pointed out by Thomas Fuchs, explaining that there are specific mobile use cases and thus mobile-specific websites or web apps.  I personally agree with this.  By the same design, there are websites and web apps that were designed with only the desktop, and oftentimes a certain browser in mind.  However, Hay points out that we generally do not speak of the “Desktop Web” when referring to these apps, but ironically, that is exactly what we do with mobile.

The way I see it, is that no one doubts the validity of ‘one web,’ or its principle of ‘thematic consistency,’ if only because it means you can send or bookmark a URL from one device to another and know that the same content will be keyed off it.  However, this does not necessarily mean that all users should be expected to use the same content regardless of device and context.

For example, the product you buy on Amazon should indeed be the same as a German’s Amazon product, but that does not necessarily mean that he would not rather see the particular product in a different format.  Possibly a format that is priced in Euros, describes the product in the native language, and invokes a much smaller shipping fee!

Another example I could use is an airline web site (no particular one).  The home page for your typical user could possibly present flight booking and corporate information; where as the mobile user might see a flight-checker and boarding pass barcode feature.  You are looking at the same company and standards, but seeing a completely different mix of content.

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