The Mobile Web: Does it exist?

Stephen Hay’s article There is no Mobile Web is a short article on the limits and delineation of the web. Stephen, according to his webpage is a web design and development strategist who has his own user experience consultancy Zero Interface. He is a popular speaker on the subjects of CSS, web accessibility, and (web)design and open web standards, and has published several articles on these subjects. He can be contacted via email and can also be found on Twitter @stephenhay. One day he posted this 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.”

He received a lot of re-tweets and decided to give a little article on it. It seems to me that his audience is a person knowledgeable about the idea of the One Web, although a layman would sorta understand it. A one web system is one in where the manner in which a person gets on the web doesn’t matter, be it a mobile device or a desktop computer. The content or URL should not change. He talks about the idea of Desktop web and Mobile web. He reminds the audience that the idea of a mobile web gave the desktop web its name. Before the advent of the mobile web as it is, there was just the web. Web content was designed for the desktop user, although it wasn’t called Desktop web, simply because it was just the web. But, with the existence of tablets , there are settings on websites where you can check a box requesting desktop web as opposed to the mobile web which has different content and sometimes different URLs. Hay seems to me to disagree of the label “mobile web”. He says,

That said, simply adjusting the presentation of content or pieces of content on a website does not, in my opinion, constitute a “mobile website”. It’s a website for which the developers have considered the users of mobile devices and adjusted certain things accordingly.

He views the mobile web as an excuse to revisit all the old ideas about web accessibility and progressive enhancement. He is right about this as far as I am concerned. When I use my tablet, I always click on the desktop request check box. I hate the idea of progressive enhancement link to the mobile web as it is, progressive enhancement means according to the famous Opera article Graceful degradation versus progressive enhancement by  that ” You start by establishing a basic level of user experience that all browsers will be able to provide when rendering your web site, but you also build in more advanced functionality that will automatically be available to browsers that can use it.” This is an idea that was prevalent when the web was being established, it is now as most will argue dead in regards to “desktop web”. Revisiting this idea on a mobile platform will mean that web universality will be compromised. Based on a person’s device, the same information may not be seen. Good idea? not so much. Hays says,

Which data you get and use and in what form will depend on your device and your circumstances. Your context, if you are so inclined. And that will constantly be changing.

Very true. He concludes that maybe his view on the mobile web is not based only on a semantic distinction especially as developers are now creating websites for tablets and such, such as iPod web etc.

Do I support his idea? Wholly. The web was created to provide the same information to everyone, if the old ideas of progressive enhancement and graceful degradation are reintroduced on a mobile level as they are, one could argue they already are right now, the universality of the web will be compromised.

This is very evident in the University of Houston-Downtown’s website.  Below is the image of the first version of the UHD mobile web. It has changed since then but the core ideas are still the same. The same information from the “desktop website” is not present.

UHD Mobile webpage image

Below is the actual website.
UHD WebPage Image

The massive amount of information missing is staggering. This is what people would me missing out on if the mobile web doesn’t provide universal content.


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