What A Website Will Be… And Never Be

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There are two schools of thought when it comes to marketing brands online and the presence they need.

  1. Build a website that houses everything – all of your text, images, audio and video – in one, centralized, location.
  2. Use the existing platforms and build your presence within their community (Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, etc…).

Both have merit, and you can also do a little bit of both. For example you can house all of your branded content in your own website, and use the existing online communities to set-up outposts (as Chris Brogan calls them) – a specific Facebook Fan Page or a YouTube Channel – to further promote what you’re about with strong links back to your mothership (or website). You can also use a Facebook Page as your home base and direct people to a microsite for more information or to gather more data from them than Facebook might allow based on their terms of service. Personally, I advocate for owning your own space, building it and nurturing it and using those other/existing platforms to promote or extend the brand. Brands should own their content, community and type of conversation and not be beholden to the terms of service or whims of someone else.

It’s a personal choice, but it’s all going to change again soon.

Those big, lumbering websites with all of that functionality, flash and content could very well disappear into a mist of mobile before we all know it. Today, companies have big corporate websites and only a fraction of them have mobile sites, iPhone applications or even make it easy for a consumer to navigate through their content from a mobile device. For the majority of  brands that are even engaging at the mobile level, it’s of significantly smaller scale and proportion when compared to what their pumping into their Web efforts. Look around at the mobile adoption that people have. Whether it’s iPhone, BlackBerry, Nexus One, Palm Pre or even the basic web browser on their cell phone, it’s happening more and more and the growth is alarming.

Marketers are not going to be prepared for this shift… and this shift is now.

There are too many brands who feel like they waited too long before they really embraced the Digital Marketing opportunities that were there for them when the Internet became more commercial. Some feel like they still have not really mastered the channel. And, while all of this is going on, it’s not hard to imagine a world in the not-to-distant future where the website is all but an after-thought. Where the first brand interaction happens on the screen in your hand. Where that first brand interaction seamlessly lets you accomplish all (and maybe even more) of your goals without ever really needing to go to a full-on web browser. That kind of world might dictate an even smaller web presence – a secondary place where it simply compliments or augments the mobile platform. Imagine a day and age where your website is simply a standard/checklist item to have (like being listed in the phone directory, having business cards or an address on the door of your physical location), but not because it is even a fraction of the brand experience anymore.

It’s not a lofty science fiction thought… it makes perfect sense.

It’s nice to think that you’ll deal with that world when it arrives, but it might already be here. How many times have you been frustrated when you could not find the directions, location or store hours of a retailer while looking for them on your mobile? How many times have you fired open your iPhone only to laugh at how non-existent some big brand’s experience is on that platform. This is the same kind of conduct we saw in the early days of the Internet. The difference is that things are moving faster. We have the infrastructure to support it and companies that are doing this well (see Amazon‘s iPhone app) are benefitting, while laying the groundwork and framework for what "online" will mean.

Marketers, businesses and entrepreneurs: this isn’t something that’s coming in the next decade. It’s practically here and the opportunity is now.


  1. Mitch,
    Once again, U summed it up beautifully…
    Mobile enables businesses to engage consumers like never before!
    First thing you check when you wake up – Last thing you check when you go to bed. Within arm’s reach 80% of the time.
    The SmartPhone – “The 3rd SCREEN is already the 1st”…
    4+ billion mobile phone subscriptions now in January 2009.
    2.5 times more than the number of TV sets.
    4 times more than the number of personal computers.
    The Distributed Web – you must go beyond just your website and traditional methods.
    I prefer the OutPost approach but always considering the central hub, and create inbound links.
    I believe Mobile Apps are the new Websites…
    We are pretty much ahead of the regular pack, but we notice how much our habits have changed.
    I use less of my laptop, more iPhone…
    I also aggregate more and search less, apps make this possible.
    Mee workflow has also changed, doing much much more and efficiently with mobile.
    PS: I look forward to our up-coming discussion end of Jan ๐Ÿ˜‰
    Leo Ferraro

  2. I don’t think mobile will make Websites obsolete. It’s certainly complementary, and establishing one’s mobile presence will be become more and more important from a branding perspective in the near future… but there will always be customer interactions with a company that will need to be performed using larger screens that mobile devices aren’t well suited for. But I think the point is not that one will replace the other — the real question to ask is, why do they have to be different? A mobile phone (smartphone, superphone, call it what you will) is just an access device… a piece of plastic that connects you with information. So is your laptop, your refridgerator, and your car’s dashboard. The real goal is to make your content device-agnostic. Why should companies have to build separate Web sites, iPhone apps, Blackberry apps, Google apps, Facebook pages, etc.? If the right set of standards emerge, wouldn’t all these proprietary platforms become irrelevant?

  3. Good points.
    Remember, mobile is within arm’s reach 80%+ of the time.
    Most important, it’s also another experience.
    Mobile apps can deliver that experience, rich, interactive and engaging content.
    Delivering anything else, such as mobile pages (with set of standards) to address multiple mediums, will not deliver that experience.
    Leo Ferraro

  4. Mobile mobile mobile. There’s no doubt in my mind that’s the future or should I say the now. Once the mobile suppliers cost go down and tablet type phones hit the market why would we continue to chain ourselves to a desktop. Most of us are in and out of our desktops today only by the current limit of our phones. 
    I don’t think that desktops are on the way out however. I think they’ll become what the typewritter was to an author. A tool to finalize ones work after all not too long ago only some people used typwritters in an office. I think business will in the near future do this again – why give all your staff a desktop when a tablet/phone will do all the things they need already. I think are phones will become our notepads and hammers. Somewhere where ideas and in the moment problems are solve.
    I think that in days to come our most important and creative wizards of code will figure out how to make mobile and none mobile sites existe as one. But for now 2 separet sites will have to do. 
    As a soon to be non smoker I find myself outside my iPhone or my blackberry working out problems an writting emails often more than at my desktop. 
    Go Mitch go. Keep up the great post   

  5. i don’t see mobile as a threat to people owning their own proper websites. mobile development isn’t as hard as we’ve made it out to be – remember you are dealing with a platform that requires *less* styling. most people are running their sites in a CMS like wordpress now, and there are plenty of options to redirect users to a special mobile version that has all your latest content.
    if you have the right software to test your site for mobile, you are off to the races. no reason to rely on facebook or some iPhone app building service.
    granted, i dont optimize my sites for mobile *yet*, but apparently an upcoming iPhone version is going to support flash in the browser which is a huge change.

  6. If you build a correct website based on the web standards (with a proper structure in HTML/XML and styles in CSS) you can have both (web AND mobile), or even more with only 1 site, that’s the beauty of the web today !
    Since you seem to oppose web and mobile sites makes me think you’re note totally aware, even if you’re right.
    There’s no such shift to be done, let’s start by building websites standards proof, only after that you can do whatever you want.

  7. Again, some great writing Mitch.
    My own behaviours have found me using my android phone for most of my social web stuff, reserving desktop use for more in-depth stuff – like planning a trip or editing my flickr sets.
    I completely agree about the mobile experience for many sites lacking coherence – and how many businesses don’t bother to mark themselves on Google Maps so we can find them easier?!.
    I guess that’s what Marketing Professionals are here to help with, right?!

  8. I’ve started to compare digital to print evolution; books, posters, newspapers, journals, brochures etc. All print as well as digital material has its merits.
    And its still the case for an excellent author like yourself Mitch,l that you published a book based on a 600 year old technology to reach even more people than before :-).

  9. Hey Mox,
    I know you can… I don’t think you should. Those two platforms are just way too different to have the same thing (only smaller). From interaction to expectation, those two must be totally different in terms of look, feel, content and engagement.

  10. I hear you Mitch…But darn, I can hardly get business people to the doorsteps of a decent web presence. I am talking about the small and mid sized business that are having a hard time grasping how to build an internet presence that makes business sense…Gee, I still come across customers who just bought, at great cost, websites that are totally opaque to bots!…
    I know…its the future and all that jazz…but I think there is still a lot of work to get some markets going on this…
    On the other hand if the phone is becoming THE COMPUTER then, at least, if we do nothing but cover out basics, we should do reasonably well. All mobile specific stuff should eventually fade out as phones get closer to desktops functionality wise…
    Maybe I am having a meat and potato day…I dunno…but I still think that a well engineered web presence should do well in the future as mobile gains traction…not saying that some specific domains cant benefit from specific development…but if your basics are well covered, it should not be that difficult to adapt if need be…

  11. Bravo, Very insightful.
    I think we will have a migration from the current web site to more of a mobile experience. The beginning will depend on tablet platforms.
    Personally I would love to have a mobile app that would let folks view my photography portfolio, that I would in turn update either via web or mobile app

  12. If you are engaging in the mobile platform it should simply be an extension of your main site. Like you said there may come a day when your first interaction is through a handheld device. However, this is not going to be the only interaction. Like Facebook, Squidoo, Hubpages, your blog, and every other avenue that people are exposed to your brand, a mobile presence is just another way to introduce yourself and get people to your main site. Think of like a digital business card on steroids. The goal is still to get people to your site and eventually make contact.

  13. Technology does make things smaller and no doubt mobile is the new king on the block, however, based on our human scale, mobile will also be limited in this respect. We still visit theatres for the big picture experience, still watch movies on large screen LCD’s, each medium will have its use for a very long time, marketers just have to take advantage of each format.

  14. I agree that companies who want to be at the forefront of their industries should be investing into developing mobile apps, not just websites. Maybe when you enter their website, you’ll be asked “mobile or desktop”. Whether you are on either platform, what I would like to see more small businesses develop is an actual discourse with their customers. So many businesses think they can just plunk up a website and the people will come. They rarely send out newsletters, and many of them don’t even have a blog or a facebook page. Those should be the basic online business marketing tools first. True leaders will be jumping ahead into mobile. It is the now.
    Cheers, Courtenay Pitcher

  15. Beautifully written, Mitch. My only argument is with your comment that you shouldn’t make a website capable of adapting to both desktop and mobile platforms. It’s not difficult at all to build a single page that changes stylesheets from normal desktop browsers to text browsers to iPhone/Android browsers to basic “dumbphone” browsers.
    My biggest problem with separating the websites can easily be illustrated by most websites that already doing so… You can easily lose functionality that way. If I went to a designer’s website from my Android phone and I couldn’t see their portfolio because either it wasn’t optimized for mobile or it was dumbed down for mobile, I’d be very peaved. As a matter of fact I usually am.
    Websites should maintain the same content no matter what, just served in different ways.

  16. I’m a little confused. Are you saying that moving forward, sites should be make “mobile-ready” from the ground up and not use outpost. I’m thinking YouTube already renders nicely on an iPhone, Android, or BlackBerry device… So why re-write that platform?
    Also, twistimage.com does not work well while from my mobile.

  17. No. I’m not saying that. I’m saying mobile platforms are necessary and should not just be considered as outposts.
    I’m not saying to re-write that platform. I am saying to think about it differently (see the comments above).
    As for the Twist Image website, it’s currently being redone, but you should check out the mobile version of this Blog.

  18. I like the directory analogy. The mobile platform really does feel like a rich rolodex sometimes…Did I just say rolodex?
    This migration may be category specific. In the case of high consideration purchases, where consumers are researching from home, larger formats would be more appropriate. I think this also speaks to the proliferation of video and how PCs are in many cases replacing TVs. So yeah, there’s a shift in how we use our technology.
    Cool post Mitch…

  19. Yes I agree that we have the infrastructure to support it and companies that are doing this well. Now a day’s mobile plat from plays a big role behind the success of any business.

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