Getting people to build mobile websites has been an uphill battle for a long time. We had a chicken and egg problem. People didn’t browse the web from their devices because the experience was horrible, and website owners didn’t make mobile optimized versions because people didn’t browse from their devices. That’s all changing now, quickly and drastically. I just want to pause for a second to recognize both Twitter and Facebook for their role in making it happen, cause between the both of them they’re the major drivers of adoption of the mobile web based on what I’m hearing.
Having devices, browsers, and networks good enough that users could at least access the full web version was the first part of the equation. It made it possible to at least use the web from a mobile device. But still, there’s wasn’t significant traffic flowing. Not enough to shift the behavior of publishers at least. That’s changed pretty drastically over the last six months. I’ve spoken to a lot of folks who say things like “I took a look at our analytics and realized we had a ton of mobile devices hitting the site, and when I dug in a bit it seemed many of them were coming in off Twitter and Facebook shares.”
That’s fantastic! It used to be that us mobile folks like myself had to convince someone with a website to build a mobile version in the hope that they could then tempt some traffic their way. However, it’s a much easier discussion to have when the publisher is ALREADY seeing significant mobile traffic, and they just need to make the decision about how to serve it better.
The role of these applications as bridges between social sharing services and the web is finally getting links in front of people on their handsets, links people are clicking on. Its something that was missing for a long time. Google has done a good job of bridging search over to mobile, and they’re a decent driver of traffic as well. But based on the stats I directly have access to and the folks I speak to, Facebook and Twitter are much more serious sources of traffic. Granted, most of those folks have explicitly put something together to get distribution via Twitter and Facebook. But for the last 5 years I’ve also had discussions with folks attempting to tune explicitly for getting mobile search traffic, and that didn’t happen. So I think it’s a fair comparison.
So thank you Twitter and Facebook, you’ve helped to open up an environment that was sitting locked up for the last decade. I made my own efforts to get the system flowing and didn’t make it anywhere I would have liked to, so tip of the hat on a job well done. There are still plenty of examples of places where we need to get better at serving mobile users, but we’ve at least started. And the mobile web a whole is in a much healthier place (it finally doesn’t feel like hype!!!).
I think the native apps vs. web apps debate is going to rage on. As I’ve attempted to lay down, it’s not a black and white discussion. And again, Twitter and Facebook are fantastic examples of services that don’t need to make that binary decision. In some places an app version works best for them, but they leverage and enable the mobile web. The big decisions for any business should really be around building a fantastic service, and the tactical decisions of native app or mobile web are secondary, and are going to shift as the technology progresses and morph over time. Twitter and Facebook have built great services. I’m looking forward to having more examples over the coming years, and less looking forward to the continued debate over web vs. native.