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A Stack Exchange employee just said the following regarding the mobile site:

We are actively working on the responsive design that works on both desktop and mobile, based on screen size. Once that is finished and perfected, mobile web will be slated for complete removal.

I was recently visiting relatives in India. Most of the time, I could access Stack Exchange through a fast Internet connection and could easily do things on the site using the responsive site, on my modern mobile device. However, there were times when I'd have to access the network through an extremely slow connection, as slow as dial-up.

Basically, mobile data providers in India offer "unlimited" data, and limit daily usage to between 1-1.5 GB per day. Beyond that, your speeds are reduced to much, much slower speeds (in my case, 64 kbps, which is just a tad faster than dial-up). You might think, you're not likely to use so much data in a day, as you can use Wi-Fi, right? Unfortunately, my relatives and (mostly) everyone living in the suburbs have disconnected their home broadband connections (DSL only) in favor of doing everything over mobile LTE data.

I maxed out my mobile data allowance quite a bit during my trip. While (I'll be honest) I was using the Internet too much sometimes, most of the time it was because I accidentally left some background process running on my laptop (which would be tethered to my phone), partially or fully depleting my allowance early in the day. The responsive site simply would not load over the slowed Internet connection. The mobile site, on the other hand, would load relatively quickly and be almost completely usable on the slow connection. I'd like to be able to access the network even if my connection ends up slowed.

Also, this isn't just an India problem: many less-developed countries have slow home connections with no access to LTE or 3G networks. Even here in the U.S., around 2% of Internet users use dial-up (with one state having a rate of 4%), and I'm assuming a significant (slightly higher) percentage use home broadband connections less than 1M (one of my previous classmates living in a Houston, Texas suburb had a 256k DSL connection, the fastest available in their area). Keeping the mobile site up will tremendously help users on slow connections access the network, due to the sheer overhead of loading external assets on the main site and help keep the network open to a more diverse audience.

Another concern, aside from network speed, is the fact that the mobile site still works over many browsers that are no longer supported and broken on the main site (e.g. Internet Explorer 11 as of November 2019). If one is forced to use an old browser for some reason (e.g. they're on an older work machine), they can still use the network using the mobile site (albeit not in the same way they used to be able to before, but still better than the current desktop site state). I've been vocal about SE maintaining IE11 support before, and under those posts, you'll find comments from many users who complained about this recent omission of support. (A real example: many cities in the Netherlands use Windows 7 with IE10 because their software won't work on later versions of Windows or IE.)

I'm fine with SE not developing new features for the mobile site and only fixing vital bugs for it. But, for the sake of users on slow Internet connections (and, as an aside, for users made to use older browsers), please do not completely remove the mobile site.


A few questions about my connection in India that I expect will be asked in the comments:

  1. It's rather far-fetched that everyone would use the Internet on their computers by tethering their phone. Aren't mobile data wireless routers that provide home Wi-Fi available?

    Yes, and some of my relatives do have them. Those provide an expanded limit of around 3-5 GB per day, but since that allowance is shared, it's still easy to max it out since different people are using it at the same time.

  2. What about public Wi-Fi?

    Unfortunately, the Indian government requires operators of public Wi-Fi services to collect and verify cell phone numbers of their users. I don't connect to them for privacy reasons, as I don't want to give away my personal info to every public network I may connect to.

  3. Not every provider limits their users to a mere 64k upon exhausting the daily limit. The reduced speed ranges up to 256k on some providers.

    True, but that's still slow, and given how slowly (or nonexistent-ly) the main site loads on 64 kbps under my experience, I expect it will still load fairly slowly on a 128-256k connection.

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    This is more a call for improved internet access around the world then something SE should be doing.
    – Luuklag
    Feb 3 '20 at 5:52
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    @Luuklag Internet access across the world is not centralized. We can't take care of the whole thing in one shot, but we can work around problems in the implementation. Feb 3 '20 at 5:53
  • If anyone disagrees with this, please let me know so I can edit to address concerns. If you have an alternate idea, please post it as an answer. Feb 3 '20 at 5:54
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    @Luuklag no, actually. Feb 3 '20 at 6:35
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    @Luuklag That's an interesting take on accessibility. "Your site is bad on slow connections" / "This is more a call for improved internet access around the world". "Your site is unusable on screen readers" / "This is more a call for improved treatment for eye conditions". "Your building's only entrance has steps" / "This is more a call for flying wheelchairs"... Feb 3 '20 at 8:51
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    FWIW I often have slow-loading issues on a non-fibreoptic broadband connection in a smaller town in the UK (e.g. clicking the rep icon after waiting a few seconds, but the JS still hasn't loaded yet, so it takes me to my network profile) Feb 3 '20 at 8:54
  • A quick test with the browser dev tools puts the full site at around double the loading time compared to the mobile site on 2G speed. While that is significant, it doesn't really explain the behaviour you saw, asset sizes alone don't explain why the full site would be unusable. Maybe it also reacts more sensitive to long delays and runs into timeouts on slow connections. Feb 3 '20 at 9:37
  • @Luuklag it can be a real issue, and not just for SE. I actually have a question on SU with similar issues ages ago, and its annoying
    – Journeyman Geek Mod
    Feb 3 '20 at 10:58
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    This is just basic accessibility. You can't claim to prioritise inclusion and diversity in one breath, then discriminate against non-first-world infrastructure (by effectively denying access) in the other. Feb 3 '20 at 11:54
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    Mixing low bandwidth access and IE<=11 support in one question is a bad idea. These are entirely different problems with different solutions, and should be viewed differently by planners developers. One can should be moved to the front burner, the other should be burned with fire.
    – Caleb
    Feb 3 '20 at 12:48
  • I get 18 GB per month, my budget doesn't run to 1-1.5 GB per day...
    – PM 2Ring
    Feb 3 '20 at 13:43
  • @PM2Ring You probably have home and public Wi-Fi to offset that. Here in the U.S., my consumption is about 5 GB per month. However, in India, I (practically) had no access to either, so all my Internet usage was counted toward that total. Feb 3 '20 at 17:31
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    Setting to status-declined as this is the answer for the request (not to eliminate the mobile site completely). However, there is no timeframe right now for the complete removal of the mobile site.
    – Yaakov Ellis StaffMod
    Feb 18 '20 at 10:11
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    @anonymous One could not possibly maintain the mobile theme without having access to the entire code base to understand what is actually being sent to it. That's basically synonymous to asking us to open source everything, which will never happen.
    – animuson StaffMod
    Feb 18 '20 at 19:55
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    @anonymous that is simply not possible given how the website works
    – Yaakov Ellis StaffMod
    Feb 18 '20 at 20:46
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Re animuson's comment.

I will say that this is incredibly unlikely to happen. Responsive design was always meant to replace mobile web from day one, and that plan was explicitly mentioned in the original announcement in 2018. It is not viable to maintain all the code needed to also run mobile web in addition to the main site.

This is perfectly understandable, and maintaining one site is perfectly acceptable. But you still need to fix the root problem: the responsive site architecture needs to be fixed to work properly. It should progressively load enhancements based on feature availability, not work backwards from a full blown app.

Your plea is pretty much falling on deaf ears here. This decision was already made long ago.

Put some of your decision makers and developers on throttled Internet connections until they change their mind and fix this. You don't have to maintain two sites, but you do need to work through what happens on bad connections and make sure everything is still usable. More than just users in India will thank you, this will even be a noticeable benefit to people on good solid broadband connections too!

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    With regard to the last sentence: amp.dev Feb 3 '20 at 7:11
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    It's amazing how a company that talks so much about inclusivity can so casually flip the bird at about half the world's population and probably at least a fifth of their own users. Feb 3 '20 at 8:46
  • A few years back, they did fix a problem when using 3G from where I was suddenly became slow (tens of seconds response times). That is, when it wasn't slow at the SE headquarters. Give them credit. (The problem lasted on the order of a few weeks) Feb 3 '20 at 10:43
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    @PeterMortensen I hope your optimism is well founded, but they're a different company to what they were a few years back, with different leadership and very different properties. I suspect this will be declined because regions with slower-than-downtown-NYC internet connections are not priority target markets for Stack Overflow Teams™, which the public Q&A sites are now essentially merely adverts for. Hopefully I'm wrong and they'll surprise us... Feb 3 '20 at 11:37
  • @user56reinstatemonica8 Inclusivity and diversity are also clear priorities today, and this fits as part of that. Feb 3 '20 at 17:33
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Thanks for your feedback here.

To be clear when we say that we are removing the mobile website, what we are referring to is the following:

  • Many of the main views used for rendering the site have mobile versions and regular (non-mobile versions). These views date back many years, and in many cases offer different user experiences on mobile and regular.
  • Although the mobile views have allowed us to offer a decent experience for users on mobile browsers, they are challenging to maintain (since any change that affects the UI needs to be made on both views) and do not offer a consistent experience for all users.
  • With the release of the Stacks design framework, we have begun (and continue) to remove the mobile views, in favor of using one view for all browsers, featuring a responsive web design.
  • Removing the mobile views and moving everything onto Stacks removes some big roadblocks to maintenance and to new feature development (and cool things like potentially offering dark mode). It also allows us to remove lots of CSS content (which can affect load time in a positive way).

Just as it always has been, Performance is a Feature. Currently our homepage renders in 12.2 ms and the questions page renders in 18.3 ms. We try to use CDNs and a cookieless domain for delivering as much content as we can. Our aim is that all sites load exceptionally fast for all users, anywhere. Obviously this can be quite challenging to achieve in some scenarios, especially like what you describe in countries where faster Internet is not something that most consumers have access to.

The responsive site simply would not load over the slowed Internet connection. The mobile site, on the other hand, would load relatively quickly and be almost completely usable on the slow connection. I'd like to be able to access the network even if my connection ends up slowed.

If you can provide any details regarding what specifically was hanging on the responsive site, that would be a big help. As I said above, the mobile views are eventually going to be removed. But in so doing, we definitely do not want a regression of functionality and performance for users. It would help us very much to know things like if there are specific file requests that are taking a long time to respond or transfer, or if there are specific processes on the client side that are holding things up. Anything of this nature that is holding up performance is a valid bug report.

As far as IE 11 support, I am sorry to say that this browser is no longer officially supported and support for this will not be coming back.

Once again, thanks for your feedback here.

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    I'm cautiously optimistic, but currently I mostly use the mobile site on my phone, and only switch to the full site when I need its features. On a questions page I can see 5 or 6 questions per screen on mobile, but only 2 or 3 on full site.
    – PM 2Ring
    Feb 3 '20 at 13:48
  • @PM2Ring when I simulate most phones in chrome dev tools, I see between 5 and 8 questions on screen. What phone are you using?
    – Yaakov Ellis StaffMod
    Feb 3 '20 at 14:14
  • A Galaxy S9. My default font size is on the 3rd smallest setting, and I don't want to go any smaller. I just tried it on the smallest font, and it doesn't make a lot of difference.
    – PM 2Ring
    Feb 3 '20 at 14:31
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    @YaakovEllis Simulating an IPhone 6/7/8 I get ~2.9 questions per page on the main responsive layout, and ~7 questions per page on the old mobile layout. Especially the user card wastes an enormous amount of space on a phone screen. Feb 3 '20 at 14:34
  • That previous font size setting was in the general systems settings menu. I just tried it with the browser font settings, which I'd set at 110%. I've now set it to 50%, which makes a big difference, but I can barely read it. ;)
    – PM 2Ring
    Feb 3 '20 at 14:38
  • @SEisevil Usercard? I get five on my 11 Pro but I don't see a usercard, just a by-line, same as the mobile view and, actually, on responsive, the by-line is sometimes on the same line as tags, taking up less space. The top bar does take up a good amount of space but you can turn the stickiness of that off. Most of what makes it taller is the loss of the two-column view. i.stack.imgur.com/2lBYq.jpg
    – Catija StaffMod
    Feb 3 '20 at 16:20
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    @Catija On the questions list, not the homepage/active view the user card is visible (i.stack.imgur.com/5myFg.png) Feb 3 '20 at 16:25
  • @SEisevil AH! I see. Hmmm... curious that we differ in how we format the two pages. Seems like we could follow the same styling.
    – Catija StaffMod
    Feb 3 '20 at 16:27
  • I'm no longer in India, so I can't provide further details. Feb 3 '20 at 17:14
  • What about the bandwidth / data size consumption? Feb 3 '20 at 18:36
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    Render time is nice but I'm not sure how it's relevant to what the OP asks about, namely performance for people on slow connections. The most popular PT.SO question takes over 20 s to load in 2G from Brasil, for instance. webpagetest.org/video/…
    – Nemo
    Feb 4 '20 at 8:19
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I'll offer a different position.

If the main concern is bandwidth related, then the steps to optimize the site such that it can load and run sufficiently on slow networks should be taken. Admittedly there has to be a lower threshold on that; while it'd be nice if the site could load on a 56k modem, not having that shouldn't stand in the way of having a responsive website.

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