Op-Ed: Making Mobile Sites for the Curious

The following is a guest contributed post from Jeffrey Broesche, editorial director for Mediander. Is your phone a tool or a friend? Catering to the curious in mobile …

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Op-Ed Making Mobile Sites for the CuriousThe following is a guest contributed post from Jeffrey Broesche, editorial director for Mediander.

Is your phone a tool or a friend? Catering to the curious in mobile has unique challenges and possibly new rewards.

Large content sites face unique challenges when making the move from desktop to mobile. Will the content on mobile’s small screen be as discoverable, browsable and usable—not to mention authoritative, comprehensive and engaging—as on the desktop? The success of the mobile BBC, Huffington Post and New York Times sites stems from their focus on the fundamentals of the news-reading experience: article readability and category navigability. While it is true that these two features can be implemented in a number of ways (some worse than others!), the simplicity of the two objectives is perfectly suited to the size and user time constraints of the mobile platform. (In many ways, it’s a return: Consider the old-school physical newspaper, a perfect model of clarity of purpose.) But what if your large content site isn’t composed of articles and categories? In that case, the transition from desktop to mobile is much more challenging.

From the straightforward making a call or sending a text to the more entertaining shopping or playing a game—most activities utilize the phone as a tool to accomplish something finite. Even reading The New York Times or HuffPo on an iPhone feels like it has an end: You can read a section or two, but there is always a clear stopping point. The boundaries defining most mobile experiences have traditionally allowed us to more easily define our relationship with our phone. On an emotional level, I can say I love my phone because it does this or that for me. It’s not open-ended like a relationship with a person—and that’s its unique charm.

Sites for which browsing and discovery are the main experiences don’t fit so nicely into the phone-as-tool model, and in many ways we want these sites to behave more like a friend than a machine. In mobile, the challenge for these sites is to make the near-limitlessness of the content—billions of videos in YouTube!—welcoming, an asset. The wandering, associative experiences offered now by YouTube, Mediander and Wikipedia challenge the assumption that all mobile uses are task-oriented and must be geared toward our collective short attention span.

With every new development in mobile technology comes a corresponding increase in user sophistication and interaction. Think of Apple’s utilitarian personal assistant Siri pointing the way towards something like the sentient (and sensual), multi-touch OS in Her. But among all the human desires this inexorable technological advancement will attempt to satisfy, open-ended curiosity stands apart because it pushes and prods at the boundaries that make using our phones comfortable. It’s one thing to design an exciting, engaging mobile version of a near-limitless content site, but it’s something else for that design to spearhead a new kind of relationship between people and their phones. Do large content sites’ more open-ended experiences invite a more open, curious mobile user who is friendlier in attitude to the experience at hand? Marketers take note: The user who is comfortable exploring and discovering new entertainment and information content on the small screen may also be more open and receptive to brand messages, both traditional and native. Isn’t this what we really want?

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