October 11, 2011
Seems like everything these days is mobile. According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, "mobile internet refers to online access that occurs wirelessly using a handheld device or laptop computer. If home broadband is an "always on" connection, then mobile may be characterized as 'always present' for users." Studies have projected that mobile internet use will surpass traditional desktop internet use by 2014 (source: Mary Meeker Morgan Stanley). Others have shown that 25% of US internet users are mobile-only, meaning they never or rarely access the internet via laptop or desktop computers (source Alistair Hill On Device Research) These numbers represent a fundamental switch from traditional internet-connected desktop computers to handheld mobile personal devices.
This switch is not happening tomorrow; we are living in the middle of it. In the past year, AIDS.gov has seen mobile traffic increase from 4% to 14% (September 2010 to September 2011) on our main website. National HIV Testing Day, June 27, 2011, was the busiest day of internet traffic on the AIDS.gov HIV/AIDS Prevention and Services Locator with 30% of the visits coming from mobile devices.
With these numbers, we must be ready to welcome mobile visitors with content that is relevant, with layouts that work for their devices, and with services that meet the unique capabilities of the mobile platform.
In the last few weeks AIDS.gov presented several times about mobile technologies, including a presentation we prepared for ViiV Summit.
So let's look a little more deeply about what makes a website mobile-ready.
Content -- Not all web content is necessarily mobile content, and some features or services do not make sense for the typical mobile user. While location information hits a sweet spot because of the geo-location features of most smartphones, long reports, large PDF files, or flash videos either do not work on many devices or are unlikely to be used by the majority of mobile visitors. Prioritize content that is most likely to matter to mobile users and make it easy for them to read on any device, anywhere, anytime. Use your web analytics to determine which content to prioritize for mobile viewers.
Layout -- Mobile devices span the spectrum of screen sizes, device capabilities, and features. Smartphones like the iPhone and Android have web browsers that can render most pages, even if they aren't designed specifically for the mobile screen size. Older smartphones don't have the same browser capabilities so many web pages won't display well, there will be lists of navigation links, and graphics will be inconsistent. Designing mobile specific web pages, such as m.aids.gov, is a good way to cater to mobile users, but in the absence of specialized layouts, simplified content free of heavy styling and graphics goes a long way towards being mobile-ready.
Services -- Certain features or services dovetail with the special device capabilities of smartphones. Location services allow people to find relevant resources close to them, share their own location, or tag locations and content.
Go Social -- While you may not have the resources to redevelop your website or rework it to be mobile friendly, you can establish a mobile presence via social media. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and many other social networks all have excellent mobile resources. Sharing some content there is a start if revising content or web pages for mobile requires too much time, effort, or specialized expertise.
Plan for the future -- It's true that mobile is already here, but there are tiers to approaching mobile, ranging from using what already exists and has good mobile resources (such as social networking sites) to optimizing your own resources (like following some of the steps above to prioritize content) to creating specialized resources, such as a custom application. Google Moderator has a dialogue with 182 suggestions on "Making Gov Mobile". We will cover considerations for developing applications in a future post.
The mobile era of computing has arrived. With a few simple steps, anyone can participate. We will continue the conversation on this blog. Are there questions you have? Things we can and should be learning together?