.mobi websites look awful on desktop browsers

As I mentioned in my post a few weeks back on why responsive design is better than a mobile site, one of the reasons that a .mobi site is that they aren’t generally built to be context aware. What this means is that if someone is reading a great news article on the mobile Globe and Mail site while waiting for their breakfast sandwich to be made and they share it on Twitter, what they have shared is the mobile-only version of that article. So when I sit down and follow the link on my Mac, I’m presented with one of two things:

  1. It’s got a giant wall of text that flows from one side of my browser to the other, completely breaking the 66 character per line readability guideline. Plus, any images that have been optimized for a small screen will be blown up to fit the window and will appear all pixellated.
  2. The site is formatted to a fixed-width, usually around 320-480 pixels wide to fit what these organizations think is the width of mobile device screens (here’s a hint–it’s not even close to that consistent).

Even worse, many of these sites provide a link to the ‘full site’. You’d think that this would take you to the same article on the desktop version of the site. For the most part though, clicking this link takes you to the homepage of the site, and forces you to find the article yourself. Or leave. Mercifully, the Chronicle Herald seems to get this right and takes you to the relevant article.

Montreal Gazette mobile article on the desktopIf these sites were built using responsive design, they would instead adapt to the browser viewing the content and show a properly formatted site. The trouble is that often the mobile versions of large news sites (and some corporate web sites) are built at a different time and sometimes by completely different teams. It’s no excuse for not putting your users first and smacks of lazy, silo-ed development.

Not to mention the fact that you’re potentially not getting the full search engine optimization benefit by having multiple URLs for the same content.

So what should you do? If you absolutely must keep a separate .mobi or m. site due to past investment, implement some Javascript trickery to figure out what browser people are visiting the site from and serve the appropriate version of the content. At the very least, make the link to the desktop version of the site go to the exact article, not the homepage.

Or, during your next website redesign, go responsive.

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