Mobilism: Beyond the Mobile Web

by Luke Wroblewski May 13, 2011

In her Beyond the Mobile Web talk at Mobilism in Amsterdam, Netherlands Stephanie Rieger discussed the massive growth and changes in networked devices, their impact on what used to be the “mobile context”, and how Web designers can cope. Here’s my notes from her talk.

  • Things are moving incredibly fast in mobile these days. It used to be you could spend a year understanding a device and designing for it, now change is too rapid. We used to only to able to interact with the World physically. Our behaviors were imposed on us by culture, society, and plain old physics and geography. But now we can interact with people, places, and things in new ways (digitally).
  • The Internet is also changing quite a bit. We used to sit at our desk to use the Web, now that has been turned on its head.
  • The most profound technologies are the ones that disappear. They weave themselves into the fabric of life until they are part of it. Soon there will be so many devices connected to the Internet that we’ll stop counting.
  • Currently there are 7 billion people in the world and 77% have a mobile device. Free platforms plus low cost components create a perfect storm of devices. The feature phone of today is the smart-phone of two years ago.
  • Devices can be produced in 6 to 8 weeks. You can buy a set of cheap components and build a mobile device. Whoever wants to make mobile devices can. So the number of mobile devices is going to continue to grow.
  • Things will also continue to change. Bits of pieces of Android can now be a platform for your home and parts of your any device.

The Mobile Context

  • We don’t have to go to the Internet anymore. We are always connected. It’s trivial to be in multiple places at once.
  • People reach for the Internet using whatever device they have in front of them. Even an e-reader like the Kindle has a Web browser that people use. The mobile Internet is more convenient than their home connection so many people use mobile devices at home.
  • While it is still true that people use their phones in line, and during misc. down time. This is all spontaneous activity. Mobile is also combined with other activities like watching TV or shopping in stores. 62% use mobile while watching TV. 69% use mobile for point of sale research while shopping.
  • You also see a significant amount of time shifting. 59% start a visit on one site then follow up on the PC later. This is why content needs to be accessible across both platforms.
  • We have 1.3 billion people using the mobile Internet. And for many people it is the only way to access the Internet. 22% in UK, 25% in US, 59% in India, 22% in China, 44% in Indonesia, 57% in South Africa. May continue to be the only way to access Internet.
  • Do the differences between mobile and desktop matter any more? When do we stop making the distinction?
  • What was formerly becoming the “mobile context” is becoming increasingly difficult to define. Context can’t predict the way a user is going to use the site. Mind reading is no way to base fundamental content decisions.

Dealing with Constant Change

  • Loosen up. Control is an illusion. There is too much diversity already and only more will come. Data wants to move around across platforms, formats, etc. We need to set our data free, as we don’t know where it will end up. Brand presence is going away but the content remains. You can’t plan for every contingency
  • So why are we still obsessed with controlling every pixel on our Website? Access is a key factor of user experience.
  • Create nimble experiences instead of perfect ones. Because the perfect ones may never be seen.
  • Let them tweak: allow users to choose the enhancements that are the most meaningful to them (appropriate media, reading experiences, etc.) If you don’t allow people to tweak, they will do it themselves.
  • Content first: designing mobile first can help you focus by deciding what you actually need. We need a happy medium between desktop/mobile web experiences. “No matter how cool your interface is, it would be better if there was less of it”
  • On smaller screens, content naturally ends up being front and center.
  • If you have highly structured sets of data or have primarily user-generated content you have access to structured data. Most Web sites and the CMS that create them use unstructured data so we can’t filter or adjust them. Semantic structures can beused to create incredibly rich and responsive content.
  • While the layout may be responsive, the content is not. Because content is not structured. What if content was designed more like an application?
  • Build distributed experiences. Change the way we build Web sites entirely. Most Web sites are messes of legacy stuff. The very idea of taking all that stuff and making it work across all devices is incredibly daunting. Maybe we need to rethink our idea of Web sites.
  • We’ve already started de-coupling. We use Twitter, blogs, and Facebook to manage relationships with brands. In these environments we can still have a united brand message. This is a series of touch-points across the Internet. Through different platforms.
  • Create the best experience for each audience within each platform. It’s not do everything. It’s decide what is best for your audience, go where they are and create the best experience you can for them there.
  • [In the future] brands will no longer be places you visit, but people you meet along the road.