I was browsing the web today, as I often do, with my iPhone on the can. (Yeah, you do it too, don't front.)
A link to an interesting Q&A on Quora came along, so I clicked.
And got this.
Wow. This is bold, even for Quora.
I can peek at one answer, then presumably I'll be so enamored with Quora's walled garden that I'll rush to download their app.
The introduction of iOS 6 also introduced "smart app banners" as a way to let users know that your site has an associated app. The site author just adds a META tag and mobile safari handles the rest.
<meta name="apple-itunes-app" content="app-id=999">
Note that the giant DOWNLOAD THIS APP PLEASE arrow is all Quora and is not part of the iOS 6 Smart App Banner feature. This is equivalent to a YouTube video embedding a "please subscribe video" or a reporter pointing at an unseen 1-800 number added later in post production.
This implementation goes against everything on the web. You're not just actively preventing me from visiting your site by forcing me to log in, but you're also actively forcing me to download your app to access your server.
I don't want your app. Apps are too much like 1990's CD-ROMs and not enough like the Web.
There's a pay wall over at the New York Times, in case you hadn't heard. When you hit the Times enough times or in different ways you'll be prompted to buy a subscription, and it's apparently working pretty well. At least, better than you'd expect.
However, the New York Times and other web properties are attempting to use the web in a way that the web doesn't like. In fact, the NYTimes is actively playing Web Whack a Mole with those that would reject their pay wall.
The web itself actively doesn't like these hacks. It's not just that the people of the web don't like it, that's a social issue. It's that the technology underlayment doesn't like it.
Sites like this want to have their cake and eat it too. They want Google to freely index their content for searching, but when a person tries to actually READ the site they'll pop interstitial ads, use DIVs to cover the content and actively hide it from the user.
The uncomfortable tension for a business is that the web will never see content that's not indexed (by Google, effectively), but it's not OK to serve one piece of content to the GoogleBot and another piece to the live user. So, sites play tricks and the attempt to funnel us into usage patterns that fit their models and their perceptions. They HAVE to serve the whole page to all comers - ah, but do they have to actually let you SEE it?
Check out any Quora answer while on a mobile device not logged in. See that scroll bar there? The entire page actually loaded. I can scroll around! The white area is on top, blocking the content.
Don't believe me? Gobsmacked? Here's a screenshot of a View Source from my iPhone of this page. Sure the markup is really awful, but squint and you can see the content is there. All of it.
I love that my mobile data plan was used to download the full contents of a page that I'm not able to see.
No, I don't want your app. I want to use the web my way. You're not doing it right, therefore I reject you. You need to change your ways.
Yes, it's your prerogative on how you want to run your website, but I propose that just like ExpertsExchange and others before you, the open web will reject your chicanery.
I said Good Day Sir!
Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. I am a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.
If you hit a Times link from Google or Twitter, it works.
They want Google to freely index their content for searching, but when a person tries to actually READ the site they'll pop interstitial ads, use DIVs to cover the content and actively hide it from the user.
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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.