Web App Masters: Mobile at AARP

by Luke Wroblewski June 27, 2011

At the Web App Masters Tour in Minneapolis MN, Mike Lee talked the process of bring an established organization and their publications to mobile. Here are my notes from his AARP: Designing a strategy For Organizational Transformations presentation:

  • AARP was started 53 years ago and has a lot of history. It’s a big ship to steer with 2.5 million registered users on the site.
  • Older audiences often feel they don’t need new technologies but they are the ones that frequently need them the most. Many worry about cost, maintenance, and privacy.
  • AARP had a 2,050% jump in mobile consumption between Q12009 and Q12011. Solid growth despite low mobile optimization on AARP.org in 2009-2010. Apple devices account for 66% of traffic and Android devices account for 23% but are growing.
  • At AARP all the pockets of digital have moved from a service bureau to a fully staffed editorial team. Digital is now is a 130 person team. Ad-supported pages on AARP are pushing a billion page views this year.
  • The mobile team was jump-started last year. They didn’t wait because things move so slow in a large organization anyways.
  • AARP.org has a distributed presence on Facebook, Twitter, influential blogs, mobile devices and platforms, and collaborator and partner Web sites. Integration is hard because separate teams run different channels that need to be coordinated.
  • Write once, publish anywhere is hard when you have many channels to integrate: Print to TV & Radio to Web to Mobile.
  • AARP used Texerity to publish their magazine content to multiple devices. The problem with using another vendor’s platform for publishing content to mobile devices is that you have to wait for them to make updates to their tech before your content is available in more places. They often have only a piece of the solution you need.
  • Print organizations are usually 100% utilized doing print work. They don’t have a lot of extra people to tackle device conversion of content.
  • Media channel integration is many small wins at pace. Don’t try to be the center of your own universe.
  • Technology platforms from vendors are usually too extensive. Buying a technical product capability from a vendor is not a long-term mobile strategy.
  • The iPad only took 8 months to get approved at AARP. It usually takes 1-2 years for a new device to get onto the system. The iPad was a transformative force as its form factor applies well to the AARP target demographic.
  • Dog food your devices: there is no substitute for seeing an experience on the device it was intended for. Show team members and stakeholders things on the device and let them touch. It virally sells itself. Carry a number of devices around so you can demo device experiences to your audience.
  • Anyone doing mobile Web development should have a number of devices and compare them to each other to see what your sites will look and work like.
  • The longer we wait on mobile, the harder it is to get in. Important to keep pace with the industry or get left behind.
  • AARP has a flagship app for iOS. Mostly intended to get into mobile. It consists of Web site components: feed of latest articles, popular articles, member card & login Onboard the app: site channel in topic button, save clippings, dial call center, tracking ads APIs: latest videos from Brightcove CMS, Twitter, facebook, Bit.ly
  • You may run into several under the rug issues like licensing of photos and content, broken feeds, etc. as you get ready to make a mobile experience. This might be a long period of learning.
  • Numbers in AARP surveys track PEW data on adoption of devices by older demos. Low adoption but growing steadily. There’s more of a need for mobile when you get older but there is less penetration among older users.
  • On the iPad, AARP is integrating nice modules into a single franchise iPad app. This is in contrast to launching several apps per business or niche.
  • Focus on building in house first. Then think about buying out after that. You want to avoid multiple contracts and separate user experiences that come from several vendors.
  • Make the design process visible. Put design sketches and comps on the wall so people can see them and participate.