Going mobile

At the end of October, I am scheduled to present at a conference on mobile reading organized by the NFAIS. Walking up to that event, I joined a one-day mobile marketing conference hosted by mediabistro.

Although this meeting focused on marketing, many of the lessons apply to publishers trying to figure out how to make effective use of the so-called “third screen”. In particular, Kyle Outlaw of Razorfish offered five rules of thumb for effective interface design:

  • Get your hands dirty
  • Choose your platform carefully
  • Embrace “mo-jile” (mobile agility)
  • Sweat the details (don’t skip on documentation)
  • Be unique

On the first point, Outlaw recommended learning by doing, investing to build skills and experiment with ideas, devices and prototypes. He gave three examples (SmartPox, a QR code reader; Newsbreakr, a tool that allowed mash-ups of user-generated content; and FoodNinja) to demonstrate some things his shop had tried.

He went on to note that a focus on building apps for a specific platform (e.g., Android, Apple, Blackberry, Nokia, Symbian or Windows Mobile) may miss a market. Device-agnostic solutions (using the mobile web) may make more sense when your user base is diverse. Outlaw claimed that eBay’s mobile web solution could be used effectively on over 1,000 mobile devices, giving the firm much greater reach than it would have had on any single platform.

Though he somewhat apologized for coining the term “mo-jile”, Outlaw did encourage content providers to think in phases: scope of work; structured visioning; and agile development and iteration. He favors cross-functional teams made up of roles that could include project manager, designer, developer, content/copy editor and functional analyst.

Throughout the day, “basic” app development was seen as a $25K to $50K investment (one speaker said, flatly, that if you can’t spend $50K, think about not doing it), and Outlaw talked about apps that cost $250K or more to bring to market.

Outlaw’s last point suggests that publishers will continue to rely on developers outside their direct control to create and promote unique apps. Rather than build their own apps, publishers will need to focus on structuring and tagging content for mobile use.

At the end of his remarks, Outlaw added a sixth step: “rinse and repeat.” In the world of apps, we’re painting bridges. As soon as we’re done, it’s time to start again.

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.

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