'Mobile First' gaining momentum, but so is 'Web Second'

Web sites are starting to look like mobile apps, but browser-based tools are still crucial

It makes sense that having an app for iOS, Android, and other growing mobile platforms is a priority for any tech entity. But “Mobile First” has come to mean more than just prioritizing the experience of customers and site visitors on small screens. Some sites and apps are starting to design their entire experiences with the mobile look and feel at the center.

Kayak, for example. The best-price travel search site recently re-launched its iPad app, and will soon rework its full web site to match the design: a big central content area, tabs to switch between at the top (the kind one would swipe over to with fingers on a tablet), and all the ancillary stuff off to the right. Twitter has brought its mobile apps in line with its web view, though it changes either or both seemingly every few months.

Gawker Media, host of popular blogs like Gizmodo, Kotaku, and Lifehacker (and my former employer), relaunched a wholly new look across its site in February 2011. The reaction was just brutal, in large part because readers had deep memories of how the sites “should work”: a vertical list of stories, with the most recent story at the top. But the Gawker redesign was, in part, an anticipation of tablet viewing, and of the need to be able to keep a “big story” on the front page, while all the other stuff was accessible in a very mobile-like, JavaScript-powered scroll down the right side. Traffic has rebounded from a big plunge after the redesign took effect, and other sites have taken on designs that seem, if not directly inspired, at least enabled by Gawker’s signal of a horizontally brave design. See The Verge, among others.

But “Mobile First” should always include “Web Second,” rather than “web whenever Jerry has some free time on Fridays.” There are some things that are just annoying to do on a small screen, and they usually involve bulk: loading lots of links, typing out a long note or comment, watching a longer video, or looking at a big map, to name a few examples. If a service doesn’t offer some way to get deep on its offerings, that service quickly engenders negative feelings. Foursquare’s Explore on the web is a great example of a service that launched on mobile, but hit the web soon after to provide an enhanced experience. With Explore in your desktop browser, you can make use of all the smartphone addicts’ tips, photos, and check-in history when you’re planning a night or weekend out, rather than having to pull out your phone at an intersection and hope for serendipity.

There are many reasons to value mobile users and their eagerness to try (and buy) things. But there are many more reasons to value customers who are putting notable thought and effort into your product. That will probably never change, even when 5G comes along.

"Mobile First" gaining momentum, but so is "Web Second"

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