Why Mobile Content Is So Hard to Get Right

As a foreign correspondent in London 10 years ago, my job was to unearth innovative new startups for my business magazine's readers. I traveled across the Continent, from Helsinki to Milan, meeting entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and big company researchers to write about the next big thing.

In the summer of 2002, I attended a launch party for a startup demonstrating their nascent service at a swanky Haymarket bar. Upon walking in, there were printed instructions to visit one of the tables playing music and then navigate through a maze of confusing WAP mobile phone menus. What resulted was my phone magically telling me the name of the song playing in the room. The event was Shazam's coming out party. It took almost 10 years for the music recognition app to truly gain widespread recognition but, for me, it was the first time I saw firsthand what was only possible with a mobile phone.

Ten years later, publishers are still plotting the best ways to engage readers on mobile devices.

The stakes are high. As technology continuously improves, the percent of content consumed from mobile devices increases. On average, 20% of sites’ content is now being consumed in mobile browsers. But, evolving technology platforms and consumption patterns makes it far more difficult to succeed on mobile than it is on desktop.

And the challenge of building a great mobile experience isn't solved by simply ensuring the content displays in the right way in the right environment. The bigger challenge is to figure out how best to match the content and mission of that publisher with the unique properties associated with varied operating systems, devices, browser and app environments.

Different technology translates into different consumption patterns. For example, users are consuming content in very different ways in apps than they are on the mobile Web. Gaming and social apps account for 80% of all app activity. By comparison, those activities account for just 40 percent of time spent on the desktop. Mobile Web consumption more closely mirrors what people do at a desktop with news, utilities, entertainment and topic-specific content accounting for the bulk of activity. Most publishers are responding to the rapidly evolving technology landscape with a wait-and-see approach.

A brave few are experimenting early, and with promising results.

Food52 has tailored its approach to the screen size. Its iPhone app is focused on its Hotline, a forum for user questions and answers. To take advantage of the bigger screen and encourage users to take their iPads into the kitchen, Food52's Holiday app included a variety of entertaining tips, such as step-by-step instructional videos on how to prepare a dry-brined turkey or Tuscan onion confit.

The logical first step for publishers into mobile publishing is to create a mobile-optimized site. SAY makes that easier with technology used by Remodelista that automatically resizes the page based on the screen size the content is being accessed from.

Still others are pushing the envelope even further. Kinfolk Magazine's luminous iPad app complements its quarterly books about small gatherings by encouraging readers to experience the content in a way unique to a tablet device. Whether swiping down for a peek at an intimate dinner by a freezing lake or rearranging the layout and size of photos of a salty dinner of buttered clams and beer in Maritime Canada, readers have never been able to personalize content like this before.

This post was first published at SAY Daily. SAY Media is ReadWriteWeb's parent company.

Phone photo courtesy of Shutterstock.