An Event Apart: Mobile Content Strategy

by Luke Wroblewski August 7, 2012

In her presentation at An Event Apart in Washington DC 2012 Karen McGrane outlined why providing content to mobile users is not only a strategic imperative but also an obligation for many organizations. Here's my notes from her talk on Uncle Sam Wants You (To Optimize Your Content for Mobile):

  • The founder and CEO of DEC (second largest computer company at the time) famously stated “there is no reason for any individual to have a computer at home.” Then his mainframe business was disrupted by the personal computer. Consider this the next time someone in your organization says “no one will do that on mobile.”
  • Disruptive innovation is often led by more expensive and less capable products that create new markets. These crappy substitutes do only one thing better: they give people access to something they didn’t have before. This happened with personal computers, transistor radios, disk drives, photography, and now mobile.
  • If you are an established company with a quality product, it’s hard to look at a crappier product and think it will disrupt you but that’s what happens time and time again.
  • Mobile is a low-end alternative to the desktop/laptop computing market. It gives people access to a technology they never had before.
  • 35% of people in the US don’t have Internet access at home. 59% of Americans who make less than $30,000 have no Internet access at home. 88% of Americans without a high school diploma don’t have Internet access at home.
  • At the same time, 88% of people have a mobile phone. The number of people that use their phone to access the Internet went from 31% (2009) to 55% (2012).

The Mobile Mostly User

  • Of Americans with cell phones, 31% of Americans only or mostly use the Internet on their mobiles. 39% of Americans without college degrees only or mostly use the Internet on their mobiles.
  • Mobile has erased the digital divide. It is the Internet for 50 million Americans.
  • Yet the mobile experience for many organizations is sub-optimal: non-optimized sites, subsets of content, limited features.
  • Cutting back on mobile content or features is treating people whose only way to access the Internet as second-class citizens.
  • The US president has ordered federal agencies to optimize mobile Web content. This is a push within the government to get their content to people who need it the most: anytime, anywhere, and any device.
  • Mobile is not a nice to have. You have a responsibility to deliver your content to users on mobile.
  • Federal government has launched a digital government initiative: conduct research, make content available, make content more accurate, offer easy paths for feedback. Essentially this is: research & planning, adaptive content, writing & editing, mobile governance.

Research & Planning

  • When thinking about research and planning, there is a difference between baby steps and long term planning.
  • You should have a parity experience across all your devices for all your users, but its ok to take baby steps to get there. Focus on what is achievable in the short term, but make sure you have a long-term plan.
  • If you know your end state, you can evaluate every decision you make to ensure you are heading in the right direction.

Adaptive Content

  • Adaptive content is flexible so it can adapt to different screen sizes and can be presented differently in appropriate formats.
  • Manage chunks of content, not blobs. Blobs give you a big area in which to add anything you want: text, images, videos, etc. Chunks break content up into structured elements. Structured content can be used in different ways in your presentation layer.
  • Create presentation-independent content: don’t imagine your content only lives on one platform. Make sure it is flexible and can go anywhere. Focus on the information, data, and content first.
  • Presentation layer (websites & apps), Platform layer (systems & apis), Information layer (data & content). These three layers separate information creation from information presentation.
  • Treat content as a service: provide information through APIs so it can be reused, remixed, and used in new ways.
  • If you think of your content as being structured in an API, you can reach a wide range of devices and platforms.

Writing & Editing

  • There is no such thing as writing for mobile. There is just good writing. But mobile is a forcing function to make your content better: more clear and more concise.
  • Mobile is a catalyst that can help you make your content tighter without loss of clarity or information. If you make your content work well on mobile, it will work everywhere.
  • Great content transcends platforms. If you have good content, you really don’t need to do much to make your content ready for mobile.
  • Even if you don’t have a mobile strategy now, you can start writing good content now.

Mobile Governance

  • Your people and your process will have to change. The way your teams work together will have to change.
  • You can’t have one team focused on mobile and one on desktop. You can’t have teams focused on providing different content to different devices. If you can’t deliver an equal content experience, your organization is broken.
  • Your entire organization needs to be focused on providing one well-written, universally accessible set of content.
  • Continually measure and improve your content. Every organization has an obligation to keep tracking the effectiveness and value of their content.

You don’t get to decide which device people use to access your content. They do. Get your organization aligned around providing content for mobile. There is no “wrong door” for accessing content.

  • Disruptive technologies eventually get good or they redefine what good is.
  • We have a responsibility to create great mobile experiences.
  • Do mobile. Do it right. Do it from the start.
  • We may never have an opportunity like this again, mobile an opportunity to get our processes right.
  • How are we using technology to make a real difference in people’s lives?
  • There are 50 million Americans who only use a mobile device. How are you serving them?