Dark social, and the in-app web view reality.

If you haven’t read Alexis Madrigal’s update on “dark social” traffic, do. Then come back.

Welcome back. Interesting, wasn’t it? We already know a lot of traffic is coming from Facebook, but it turns out that there’s actually even more traffic than we originally thought. But there’s another reason why it’s important — a large number of your iOS mobile views are not taking place in web browsers, they are taking place in web views.

What that means

If you’re a developer, that might depress you — app web views have less functionality than browsers, and they’re slower (though that hopefully won’t last long on iOS). It’s not all bad news, but let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first.

You need to test where you users are.

…which means testing in a web view. Not particularly easy, as you can’t install apps on the iOS Simulator, and even if you could none of the major social networks provide you with a method to test arbitrary URLs. Help is available in the form of this app, created by Paul Irish. Clone the GitHub repo and build it in XCode, then you’ll be able to test web views locally to your heart’s content. But make sure you do test in Facebook and Twitter as well once you’re all done — it’ll show you how large your viewport is, what content is available without scrolling and so on.

Web views don’t share cookies and user data.

…which means a few things. For one, if you have your own login system, the user won’t be logged in. But more commonly, they won’t be signed into any social networks either. Open one of your pages in Facebook. Does it have a tweet button? If it does, what happens when you tap it? Most often, it will load a Twitter sign in page (or nothing, as app views can’t open a new tab). Not great. So, any sharing button other than the Facebook one (which is intercepted and loads the native share dialog) is basically useless.

The good news.

…is that in a number of cases, we can adapt to the network being used. As the dark social article suggests, Facebook web views have their own unique user agent. So do Pinterest views (though Twitter ones, sadly, do not). So if you sniff the browser user agent (or referrer), discover it to be Facebook, why not hide the other sharing buttons and prioritise the Facebook share?

Having your content viewed inside app web views is far from ideal, but this is our one silver lining — if you know what network the user is on, you can at least try to customise what you’re doing around that.

But don’t forget the part about testing, though.