Surf vs. Splash

We’ve all ‘surfed’ the web at some point or another. I remember being in high school and first hearing the phrase surfing the web. At the time I was a tad puzzled, what do they mean? Are masses of people doing something differently than I am? Of course they weren’t, we were all glued to our computers, soaking up content like never before, site after site, screen after screen – I was just not too familiar with the jargon of this new medium. A decade or so later most if not all of us are still surfing the web, but instead of black and blue text on a white page we have games, videos, networks and more to keep our digital wetsuits on.

Enter the mobile device, all shiny and hooked up to the same web our desktop and laptop computers communicate with constantly. When on your mobile device are you surfing the web? I don’t think so. To me, from a mobile device, you’re ‘splashing’ the web. As I recently explained it to some partners of ours, surfing is an involved process – you go out into the water, ride a wave, go back out, ride another, etc. That behavior is very similar with how we interact with the web via our computers and laptops; find a site, consume it, back to the search engine, find another site, and so on. But with mobile it tends to be a far less deep experience. Sure most mobile splashing starts with a search engine, but rarely do mobile users go deeper than a page or two. They get their information then ‘leave the water’ so to speak…its less about consuming content, but more about getting what you need then phone off, in the pocket, back to reality.

The ever lurking presence of reality, and the limitations of the mobile interface are why we splash the web via the mobile device. Remember, in most cases reality is around you while on the mobile web. While on your computer you’re at home, in a controlled environment where you can minimize distractions and focus on whatever content you choose. When using a mobile device, you’re in a train station, walking down a street, in between meetings, etc. You dip in and dip out – or to stay true to the metaphor, splash in and splash out.

So beyond all the metaphors here, its important to remember surf vs. splash when architecting information and designing interfaces for the mobile user. Keep it simple, try to predict why the mobile user is coming to the site (hint, its usually an address, phone number, or information on a product or service). Develop your mobile site to prominently display your brand, make all of your great content and information available – but make sure that user with 15 seconds to take her eyes off of the sidewalk is able to splash your site, get what she needs, then get back to reality.

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