Mobile first or mobile only?

The open web is dying.

Why? According to Dave Winer in a post and podcast the answer, which will come as no great surprise, is Facebook but not exactly in the way you think.

Facebook is great at what it does, although some will argue over its true purpose as a social network versus an ad platform. And that is the problem: what it does excludes what it needs to do to properly support the open, or non-mobile, web.

By its own admission Facebook was terrible at mobile and dithered between different app styles including a hosted web offering that performed exceptionally poorly. It hadn’t figured out how to make money from mobile so made a concerted effort to remedy this by becoming a “mobile first” company.

Unfortunately, this has been taken to extremes and mobile first often now feels like mobile only.

With Dave’s past it is hardly surprising that he focuses on the (lack of) interaction between blogs and Facebook.

Publishing a blog post to Facebook on the non-mobile web results in a very poor experience. Posts do not support titles, even basic formatting or links which are all the bedrock of blog posts.

All that’s left is text.

Google realised the importance of basic formatting in posts with bold and italic supported in Google+ from the very beginning. You just couldn’t cross post from an external source.

Facebook demonstrates its support for mobile with Instant Articles, simplified pages that look good and load, as the name suggests, virtually instantly. Their answer to AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) as pushed by Google.

The difference? Instant Articles are exclusively a Facebook property available only within its mobile apps.

Behind the wall.

Publishers, including bloggers, are encouraged to host IA versions of their posts within Facebook ostensibly to improve the reader experience by reducing load times over mobile connections. In practice it also negates the need for readers to leave Facebook. Shame ;)

Bloggers like to be read. Let’s be honest, despite the arguments over controlling your own site, when it comes down to it the location doesn’t really matter hence the move to cross post to places like Medium and Facebook.

You go where your audience is.

The problem is that Facebook defines that audience as mobile users, being the majority subset of Facebook users, and those good looking Instant Articles can’t be seen on the non-mobile web leaving us with plain text abominations.

Where’s the reader experience here?

How difficult would it be to support basic formatting in Facebook posts? Dave suggests Markdown as a solution — which, incidentally, supports way more than titles, bold and italics, and links. It appears that the network has been testing this on Event Pages so the ability exists within the product. It wouldn’t be hard to implement Markdown in posts.

Although I don’t use Facebook beyond closed family groups it would be nice to have the network as an option for cross posting. While I have added support for AMP I have purposefully held off on implementing Instant Articles because of these inconsistencies between platforms.

So, how about it Facebook?


Originally published at Social Thoughts.