'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

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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.

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