January 10, 2007|
We have just finished a new mini-research study in which we examined the availability of mobile features for the top 50 newspaper websites and the top 50 English-language blogs. The results were surprising. Just 24% (twelve) of blogs provided mobile content, while 54% (27) newspapers offered a mobile browsing option.
In doing this research, I discovered that there was much inconsistency in the format and URLs of mobile sites. The lack of standardized ways of dealing with mobile content create real frustrations for mobile users. Examples of format variations can be seen in both blogs and newspapers. One example are the mobile sites of Gizmodo , Gawker , and Defamer , which can only be accessed through a service called MobilePlay. Basically, users go to the MobilePlay website on their wireless device, and the optimized version of these blogs, along with several others, are made available. Users cannot access the mobile content of these blogs directly from the blog website or by typing in a URL. This process is fine if you are familiar with MobilePlay. I was not, however, and as a result was confused by the mobile content of these sites. The mobile content of newspapers presents several examples of inconsistencies. First, while almost all of the newspaper mobile sites were free of charge, two were available by purchase only:
Next, two sites required users to use a specific browser or other service to access the wireless material:
Finally, two more sites only provide text message news updates, and do not have actual websites designed for PDAs or cell phones:
Another issue with these mobile sites is that their URLs do not follow the same naming conventions. Some sites, such as the blog TMZ, have mobile sites that share the same URL with their parent site. Many others, however, such as the mobile site for the blog Boing Boing, have a distinct URL. The URLs where mobile content was presented was random from site to site. All of these factors make finding a mobile version of a website inconvenient for PDA users who need to locate information quickly and often. In many cases, it would be impossible to find a mobile version of a site without first locating it on an actual computer. To me, that almost defeats the purpose of having mobile content in the first place.
Based on the lackluster performance of newspaper websites in our previous research, I expected the blogs to come out on top in terms of mobile content. It seems that while blogs may benefit heavily from RSS feeds, mobile access is an important feature for newspapers and citizens who need on-the-go news updates. Following is a table showing the results from the sites we looked at (you can also view our data sheet here). A breakdown of the methodology we used also follows.
To conduct this research, we took the top 50 most popular blogs by authority as reported by Technorati on 1/08/2006 and 1/09/2006. For the newspapers, we used the ranked data from our Newspaper Study , which shows the nation’s top 100 papers by circulation, courtesy of RefDesk. When searching for mobile content, we employed several methods. First, we scanned the site for links to a mobile version of the site. If a web page had this link, the mobile site was categorized as "advertised". If, however, we used the site search, site map, or Google to find the mobile site, it was categorized as "not advertised". After finding the mobile URLs, we tested them in two ways. First, we tried them on the Openwave V7 Phone Simulator . This tool allows you to view mobile sites on your computer as they would appear on a cell phone or other PDA. If we received suspicious or odd results, we tested them on Todd’s cell phone. If a mobile URL did not work (this was for a variety of reasons–need to purchase access, need to use a certain browser, or if the site was broken), it was marked as a "failure". If the site worked, it was marked as "success".