What’s the responsive plan for the BBC?

A look at the potential I see in the responsive design for the BBC News mobile website. For me their focus on content and reading is right, but now I'm wondering if desktop is missing out.

Today Chris Russell wrote up the justification behind BBC News' switch to responsive design for their mobile site. They've taken the mobile website (m.bbc.co.uk/news) and adapted it so that it now deals with many more device sizes, from desktop right down to smartphone sized screens. The techniques they've used relate to responsive web design, the benefits of which we've covered before.

However is "mobile" really the right place to be targeting this effort? The design of the new site is beautifully simple and brilliant for reading, but describing this as a "mobile" site (supposedly as opposed to "desktop") seems to be assuming too much about the context in which it will be used. I appreciate you haven't forced your mobile visitors to the mobile version (OK apart from here) they can still see the standard view, but what about changing the naming convention (the positioning) of this new site?

[The responsive mobile BBC News homepage]

Top priority for context in web design has to be the site visitor's objectives, not the device they use. Labeling a simplified version of your website as the "mobile" view assumes that mobile visitors don't want to perform complex activities. Research from all over the web (including some startling stats from sites we've built) suggests the world is quickly going mobile. Assuming they don't want to take their complex activities with them is quite a stretch.

The Opportunity

Rather than complain that you're doing it wrong, I think you have the perfect opportunity. Do you remember Facebook Lite? Do you use Instapaper or Read it Later? Have you seen the Apple Safari Reader? Each of these tools has a different purpose, but the overall effect is roughly the same, a light view of the content with many of the extras (adverts and other trivia) stripped out. If I'm reading anything on the web, Instapaper is my preferred view. Forget about the distractions I want to focus on the content.

This new site uses the technology behind responsive web design, but with a twist. Traditionally (what tradition there is on the web) responsive web design requires one web page i.e. www.bbc.co.uk/news responding to many devices. However, in this first iteration you've chosen to effectively take a copy of the page and put it here m.bbc.co.uk/news/ (Note: for nongeeks, the "www" and "m" are the bits that make the difference). What if, as I've found myself choosing to do, I can switch between the "mobile" and standard views, not dependent on the context of my device but the context of me? This strikes me as rather more appropriate with such a content heavy site where reading is such a core activity.

The feeling of focus I had when reading a "mobile" site story was the same I have when using Instapaper. In fact I may well find myself reading on links beginning with "http://m.bbc…" even if I'm on the desktop. Just my own small experience suggests you have the beginnings of a site feature with Instapaperlike clarity, but without the overhead of your visitor having to be enough of a geek to embed the aforementioned services into their lives. So why not rename what you call a mobile view? I like what you're doing, I just think your signposting is a little off.