The title of Kimberly Blessing’s presentation was actually Realizing “One Web” – or, Why I Hate Mobile, which is only slightly less pointed than my abbreviated version. She gave the compelling talk at Open Web Camp 2012 last weekend, held at the eBay/Paypal office in San Jose. Blessing mentioned that she had been trying to summarize her talk into a blog post, but had a hard time wrapping her ideas into a single post. Here’s my stab at summarizing the main points of her presentation.
When we say mobile, we are talking about mobile applications or “apps,’ not just the use of mobile phones as basic telephones. It’s become status quo for companies to develop and release an app that allows their customers to interact as they would on the full consumer website. This, however, just isn’t the case. Most apps only provide a limited range of functions (think: update your status, check your balance, etc) when compared to what you can do on the full site. So what gives?
For brief reference, here’s how Blessing describes a commonly-used mobile strategy, which just does not cut it:
- “Desktop Website”: fully-featured, attention paid to the UX (user experience), and a strong back end/code base
- “Mobile Website”: has a sub-set (incomplete) of features, the UX is designed for low-tech smartphones, with an attention-starved back end
- “Mobile App”: a sub-set of features (which are sometimes completely different from the full site), UX overkill, and an exception-to-the-rule code base
Three different version of the same website? Yep, it’s more common than we’d like to admit. What Blessing argues/rants/pleas for is “one web”:
Users don’t need to have the same experience, but they need to have the same capabilities.
These days, responsive design is not enough. When it comes down to it, developers don’t really know what the users want before releasing new tools. Yes, metrics allow us to see what users are doing on the site, giving valuable information about how enhancements and new features should be rolled out. Still, you won’t know how your slick new drop-down menu will be received by your audience. To maintain agility and support rapid user-centered development, Blessing recommends a four-point strategy:
- Design and build modular content objects which can be served anywhere. Spend more time in planning and executing a strategy that keeps your website flexible. Make sure your content management system can handle the approach.
- Build and serve all HTTP traffic out of the same code base. Simplify the back end so that cross-linking isn’t an issue.
- Embrace browser differences and user preferences by designing and building adaptive experiences. It’s a matter of responsibility for web developers to give good web experiences all users, even those using outdated browsers (IE7 much?).
- Make it easy to transition between experiences. This means serving the same content from the same URL, even if the user is then offered the mobile version. No mobile.yoursite.com, please.
The capabilities of mobile devices is changing as we speak, which will allow users to do more via web interfaces. Building “one web,” as Blessing suggests, will allow web developers to focus on providing consistent capabilities across all devices that can reach the web. A little more work in the beginning will go a long way .
Kimberly Blessing builds eCommerce sites for WebLinc by day, a technical career coach and code reviewer (for hire) by night. You can find her on her website www.obiwankimberly.com or follow her on Twitter at @obiwankimberly. You can also view the slides from her presentation here.