In the early days of the internet there were no mobile devices browsing webpages. The invention of the blackberry and then the Iphone changed everything, but it took a while. We entered into an era where people could browse websites from their phones. As a percentage of traffic not many visitors would be from mobile devices, largely because these sorts of phones were not that popular yet and also because it was not socially acceptable to browse on your phone in a number of circumstances.
I remember clearly in 2009 I was at a business meet for dinner and one of the attendees had one of these fancy new phones that could access the internet. He spent about half the time at the restaurant on the phone browsing websites. I distinctly remember talking to a colleague about this afterwards and he was saying that he thought it was incredibly rude that someone would spend all their time on their phone and not interacting. "Did you see how he spent so much time browsing the internet at the meet? What an asshole". I remember it to this day because this incident caused tension between these two people that we all had to deal with later. Funny how much can change culturally in 15 years, these days people spend so much time on their phones and most people don't think much of it.
I had cause to think about this in the last week. I've been looking for hardwood timber supplies for a product I've been developing. While stuck traveling back from something I had some time and decided to look on some of the sites I had visited on desktop.
The most immediate difference was how much of an advertising hellscape browsing on mobile devices is. Slow load times, obnoxious advertisements, advertisements using dark patterns, scam advertisements, various rendering bugs caused by loading enormous amounts of code to run the advertisements, etc. The experience was just so incredibly much worse on these sites as compared to browsing on desktop. I was honestly shocked at just how much worse it was. This doesn't even factor in ad blocking, something that's far harder to do when browsing from mobile.1
The next extremely noticeable thing was that there were advertisements that were only viewable on mobile but not desktop and vice versa. The targeting of advertising has greatly increased in recent years, but if you only ever browsed on mobile or only ever browsed on desktop, you wouldn't notice that the advertisements you get on mobile are different to those on desktop. This is so even when you are logged in as the same user. This is because platforms allow advertisers a lot of very fine grained options for where their advertisements will be shown and to whom. For the last 3 or so years I had a huge interest in trends in dating and how this is all impacting the general culture (many articles to come on this in the future). Because of this interest any advertisements for things like online dating apps I would have noticed and paid a lot of attention to. But because I browsed on desktop almost exclusively there were a number of advertisements from certain online dating based apps that I never saw until I browsed on mobile. This is what led me to write the blog post about the sociopathic Bumble advertisement that I only saw for the first time yesterday. I knew instantly I needed to spend time interacting with this advertisement so I'd get shown more of them, since I wanted to see more of these companies strategies for marketing their online dating apps. As predicted I then saw many other online dating app advertisements, but once again only on mobile.
This is where things get a lot more insidious. Some sites show different content for the same URLs based on what device you were viewing them from. I'm talking specifically about the content here and not just the style in which its stylistically rendered. This is a trend that started with advertising but unfortunately has spread to other things like search results and other sites.
A good example of this is searching for the exact same search term on mobile compared to desktop. See what comes up for yourself on your search engine of choice.
Blocking advertisements might be the single most beneficial step for a better internet browsing experience in 2023. The difference in experience is rather extreme on some sites, particularly the ones that allow the most obnoxious forms of advertisements. There's also a number of security concerns that go away when you are blocking random scripts from loading on websites. ↩