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Who's More Mobile: Blogs or Newspapers?

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.

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Inconsistencies

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.

Conclusion

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.

Rank Blogs Mobile Content?
1 Endgadget Yes
2 Boing Boing Yes
3 The Huffington Post  
4 TechCrunch  
5 Gizmodo Yes
6 DailyKos  
7 LifeHacker Yes
8 PostSecret  
9 ArsTechnica  
10 Crooks and Liars  
11 Think Progress  
12 Michelle Malkin  
13 TMZ.com Yes
14 Official Google Blog  
15 Gawker Yes
16 Topix.net Yes
17 Seth’s Blog  
18 LGF  
19 Instapundit Yes
20 Kotaku  
21 Explosm.net  
22 Hot Air  
23 Joystiq Yes
24 Mystery Cookie  
25 Christianity Today  
26 Power Line  
27 GigaOm  
28 Scobelizer  
29 Dooce  
30 Ze’s Page  
31 Wonkette  
32 A List Apart Yes
33 Joel on Software  
34 Perez Hilton  
35 AutoBlog Yes
36 How to Change the World  
37 Go Fug Yourself  
38 MAKE: Blog  
39 The Superficial Because You’re Ugly  
40 Talking Points Memo  
41 Defamer Yes
42 TechDirt  
43 ProBlogger  
44 Google Blogoscoped  
45 Tree Hugger  
46 The Dilbert Blog  
47 Captain’s Quarters  
48 MicroPersuasion  
49 Something Awful  
50 Newsbusters  
     
*MicroPersuasion advertises a mobile version but it no longer works.
  TOTAL BLOGS 12
     
  Newspapers  
1 USA Today Yes
2 The Wall Street Journal Yes
3 The New York Times Yes
4 Los Angeles Times Yes
5 Washington Post Yes
6 The Daily News  
7 New York Post Yes
8 Chicago Tribune  
9 Houston Chronicle  
10 Dallas Morning News Yes
11 San Francisco Chronicle Yes
12 Newsday – New York Yes
13 The Arizona Republic Yes
14 Chicago Sun-Times  
15 The Boston Globe Yes
16 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution  
17 The Star-Ledger – New Jersey  
18 Star Tribune – Minneapolis  
19 Detroit Free Press Yes
20 Philadelphia Inquirer  
21 The Plain Dealer – Cleveland  
22 St. Petersburg Times – Florida  
23 The Oregonian -Portland  
24 The San Diego Union-Tribune Yes
25 The Denver Post  
26 Rocky Mountain News – Denver  
27 The Miami Herald Yes
28 The Sacramento Bee  
29 The Orange County Register – Calif.  
30 St. Louis Post-Dispatch  
31  The Kansas City Star  
32 San Jose Mercury News  
33  The Detroit News  
34 The Times-Picayune – New Orleans  
35 South Florida Sun-Sentinel Yes
36 The Indianapolis Star Yes
37 The Orlando Sentinel Yes
38 The Sun – Baltimore Yes
39 San Antonio Express-News Yes
40 The Columbus Dispatch Yes
41 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Yes
42 Tampa Tribune Yes
43 The Boston Herald Yes
44 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Yes
45  Fort Worth Star-Telegram  
46 The Charlotte Observer  
47 The Seattle Times Yes
48 The Oklahoman Yes
49 The Courier-Journal – Louisville Yes
50 The Virginian-Pilot  
     
  TOTAL NEWSPAPERS 27
     
  TOTAL BLOGS AND NEWSPAPERS 39

Methodology

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".