Will “mobile first” one day seem as ridiculous as “Internet Explorer” first?

Ridiculous isn’t it to say “IE first”, yet in the olden days of web development when browser compatibility was no such thing – web designers had to think like this, to create a web presence optimized for one browsing experience (perhaps IE) and then to adapt it to another (say Netscape).

Yet, today its perfectly acceptable to talk about a mobile first strategy – to create a web presence optimized for one browsing experience and then to adapt it to another.

Of course that equally applies the other way around as folks create desktop web experiences which they then adapt for the small screen.

Will this one day be considered just as ridiculous?

Yes I know, my comparison of getting your circa 1998 cutting edge JavaScript menus to work on Netscape is an entirely different proposition to the huge contextual difference between someone at their PC in the office and them standing with an iPhone in one of your stores. Plus, I am not really doing the cool work folks are doing around designing for web and mobile justice at all, but..

I’ve been working with the rather talented Tim Walters PhD of Digital Clarity Group (@tim_walters) who’s been researching trends in mobile and he contends that the important thing about mobile isn’t necessarily the form factor – we’ve moved on from that; what mobile devices now give us is a plug into the ubiquitous web.

The transition from a PC or notebook to the “always on” smart phone or tablet is not primarily about the smaller, more portable, mobile device. It is about the fact that computing services are now available virtually wherever and whenever the user desires them. The mobile shift marks an evolutionary leap to the era of ubiquitous computing.

We are always online.

We are not making a decision to engage with organizations on mobile, we are not even making a conscious effort to get on-line and do something – we simply are on-line.

You must have that experience; where family and bar debates are resolved with “I’ll just Google that”, regardless of where we happen to be or what device we happen to be near. In front of the TV maybe it’s the iPad (or internet TV), the family dinner table it’s that 7” Nexus you promised the kids, the water cooler at work you reach for your laptop and in the bar it’s your smartphone.

In other words: If I have a question, about you, your products, your service, your commercial on TV or the poster I’m sitting in front of on the train;  I will engage with you through the internet with whatever I have to hand.

You no longer have a mobile engagement strategy, you are going to need a one web strategy – as not only am I going to be engaging with you through my laptop right now, I’m going to get up from my desk, think about you and as I stand waiting for the train pull my smartphone out and resume making my decision about whether I want to fly on your airline, stay in your hotel or buy your car.

This One Web strategy is not limited to figuring out the form factor of the device I am on, as during the course of our engagement I may decide this silent conversation moves to your Facebook page, I may flick through your on-line manual or a discussion group discussing your product.

The retail folks have been talking about this for years – they call it omni-channel – and the Wikipedia description of that is

“a seamless approach to the consumer experience through all available shopping channels, i.e. mobile internet devices, computers, bricks-and-mortar, television, catalog, and so on“

– pretty familiar right?

Splendid, but what the hell has this got to do with IE?

Well, in the same way that these days (largely) the browser figures out how to deliver a consistent experience regardless of your choice of browser or operating system – I suggest that with such a multitude of channels and channel variants, combined with the uncertainty of exactly what is next, the business imperative to be agile and hitch up to whatever next is next – it’s going to be impossible for us to hand craft a variant of our message to be just so for each of these channels.

Will we be able to afford to feed and water our separate content and technology silos that deliver content to mobile, the agency that does our Facebook page or to trust that the call center operator picked up the memo about the new terms and conditions?

Or rather, like the browsers, our content delivery machines are going to figure all that out and assemble our carefully crafted content and deliver it to the right person in the most relevant way – automagically.

When the C level person in our lives, climbs down to our lowly marketing cupboard and asks what the bloody hell are we doing about engaging the cool kids on PinterbookIn or Google trousers and you smile and because the machine knows – you stand up and show the old pointy haired boss your Google trousers and your message expertly optimized for the length of your right thigh.

I call this machine the Experience Tier, although to be honest back in 2010 when I was at Gilbane I called it the Engagement Tier: Gilbane: Into the Engagement Tier (sadly, if you Google it you’ll notice as I am #1 and #2 in the results, which tells me it never quite caught on!).

However what I did write back then was:

..right now it’s is a blend of dynamic web content delivery, marketing automation, campaign management, email, web analytics..

So, what do you think? A machine that can do this – as fanciful as getting  tables to look right in Internet Explorer in 2000?

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2 thoughts on “Will “mobile first” one day seem as ridiculous as “Internet Explorer” first?

  1. So you coined the phrase ‘engagement tier’! (‘engagement layer’ has more ‘competition’ in Google)
    Is the Engagement tier the 4th layer after, or on top of Data, Business and Presentation (n-tier architecture)?

  2. Hi Peter,

    I have to admit SEO was not on my mind when I wrote “Engagement Tier”!

    I’m not completely describing a physical technical architecture – like the n-tier architecture – you describe, it’s more describing solution capability. However – in a sense yes, if you swap the term “data” with “content” in that model, then content would be across the bottom and the logic/presentation would sit over that (content is not an additional tier).

    The “content” tier would then have it’s own tiers of data/logic/presentation – but the presentation layer would not be putting content into a page – but assembling it into an interoperability standard – like OData – ready to be consumed by the engagement or experience tier.

    Hope that answers your question, thanks for your comment.



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