Friday, February 12, 2016

Techie Rant: Mobile apps shouldn't override web browsers

Dear Facebook:

I would like to politely offer feedback on this "instant article" feature that you are so proud to have updated on my mobile device.

I don't want to have to read long articles in the Facebook mobile app.

I don't EVER want to have to read long articles in the Facebook mobile app.

No, seriously. I don't want you to waste another minute of your engineers' time trying to improve the in-app browser so that it makes the experience of reading an article marginally more tolerable. I just want to not bother with it at all.

Look, I have already picked the web browser I prefer to use in my Android. It happens to be the Chrome app. It works fine. If I decide Chrome isn't good enough, I have a ton of other free web browsers to choose from, they're right there on the Play Store. I want to read articles in the browser that I have chosen. Period.

A year or two ago, you introduced the "option" (turned on by default, thanks very much) to open every link from a wall post directly in the Facebook app. I immediately tracked down the method to turn this off, and I turned it off. Why? Because I don't want to read articles in the Facebook app.
I just checked my options, and "Links open externally" is still activated, which should mean I don't have to read articles in the Facebook app. Yet for some reason, when I tap articles from on select sites -- like Vox, or The New York Times -- you still won't take me to my browser like I asked you to.

Why do I hate reading web articles in the Facebook app? Let me count the ways.

  • I can't bookmark them.
  • I can't open them in a separate tab.
  • I can't do anything else with the Facebook app, like browse recent comments on my posts, until I have finished reading that one article, or I will lose track of it forever, since your have no history function, and your search function is basically useless.
  • I can't copy the URL and put it in a blog post, or on Twitter, or anything else outside of Facebook.
  • I can't send the URL to anyone who doesn't use Facebook.
  • The web, and mobile phones, are technologies designed to allow many different applications to interact with one another seamlessly. Locking me into your app is a horrible anti-pattern.
Again... these aren't problems I want you to fix in your app. I just want you to let me use my own browser, which I have chosen myself because it is an app whose developers are 100% devoted to giving me a pleasant experience for reading articles on websites.

That's all I want to do. Now stop making me use "Instant Articles," and stop trying to convince me that they're what I've been asking for all along.

With love,
A concerned mobile Facebook user.

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