The dichotomy of one web vs. mobile web

There is a tendency to discuss the ‘mobile web’ vs. the ‘one web’ issue in terms of a simplistic dichotomy.

The reality is far more complex as we shall see below.

Barbara Ballard outlines the definitions at forumoxford succinctly when she says:

There are two main camps in the mobile web:

1. One Web. The Internet is the Internet, and sites should run well on all devices. Optimization should be based on CSS and device detection, but should not change site function or content beyond the necessary.

2. Mobile Web. The mobile is a different platform with different capabilities and different user needs. Sites should be optimized for mobile in many (but not all) cases.

Most people will accept a half way viewpoint (which is valid in a sense)

However, we could take a different perspective. I like the perspective of ‘starting points’ as outlined by Dean Bubley (also at forumoxford)

I like it because it is technology agnostic, it is user centric and is not a simple ‘either or’ categorisation.

To summarise the concept of ‘starting points’ (as per Dean’s post)

Users could be classed by their prior experience of the web (and the mobile web) and their expectations of what a ‘mobile’ web is will depend on their accumulated prior experiences and what they want to do (i.e. starting point). Starting points include: regular PC users, intermittent PC users, age, prepay vs. postpay etc. Thus, the user’s experience of the mobile web will depend on who they are and what they want to do

In terms of one web vs. mobile web, starting points could include:

B2B Web content: optimise for PCs – most business people will have access to a PC, or a mobile device with a decent browser. Some parts of some sites (eg online airline check-in) should be more mobile friendly, but nobody’s going to browse for & buy nuclear power station components on a phone.

B2B Internet communication (esp. email) - mobile devices likely to be of similar importance to PCs, but may well have middleware on device or in the network to render things differently (eg Blackberry)

B2C Web content: depends on target audience and specific site purpose. If it’s browsing-heavy or dependent on lots of text entry (eg an estate agent’s houses for sale, or a travel booking website) then optimise main site for “One Web” and PCs, but consider that there might be separate bits which could be “mobile-optimised” – eg the estate agent’s mapping pages, or the travel site’s itinerary lookup. If it’s browsing-light (eg blogs) and more oriented to reading/viewing rather than text entry, then perhaps do mobile-optimised at a core level

B2C transaction-oriented - likely to need very separate PC and mobile variants, owing to probable different payment models, security, ability to do things like print receipts / receive notifications etc.

B2C communication-oriented (email, messaging etc) – hugely dependent on “starting point” and demographics of user base, and availability of devices/networks in the relevant geographies at given point in time.

Government - probably needs mobile web versions of pages, as it’s likely to have to deal with “lowest common denominator” mobile users (as well as others who don’t even have mobiles).

I like Dean’s ideas because they put the user and the function in the spotlight. They are much more comprehensive than mobile vs. non mobile, Ajax vs. non Ajax etc. In mobile web 2.0, we took a similarly complex stance especially in terms of mobile devices and user generated content. Hence, I empathise with the ‘starting points’ methodology and it shall be added to my thoughts from now on!.


  1. Really great article. I am new to your blog and I like what I see. I look forward to your future work.