I’ve long complained about online news publications that automatically redirect all requests from mobile devices to their mobile home page. The practice kills deep-linking online, which is especially frustrating when the deep link comes from the news organization’s own Twitter feed.
But today, I’d like to highlight another frustrating practice by some news organizations – publishing incomplete articles to the mobile version of their websites or smartphone apps.
I’m illustrating two examples here today, but I’ve encountered so many on my iPhone over the past several weeks that I often wonder if many news organizations employ anyone to actually read their mobile publications, or if they merely entrusted their mobile versions and apps to automated processes.
With mobile news attracting a growing audience, news publishers simply can’t afford to take the Ron Popeil approach to their mobile publications – “set it and forget it.” They must devote some eyeballs toward a backread of all that they produce.
Unwatched content online inevitably becomes broken content – whether it be an automatically generated mobile app, a reader-driven forum or columnist’s comments page. Watch your content, and it might still break, but at least someone will catch the problem, allowing for a swift fix.
Earlier this week, I tried to read a story on USA Today’s otherwise delightful iPhone app about a survey questioning Americans about President Obama and his performance to date.
That’s where the story on the iPhone app ended. You couldn’t scroll down to take that “closer look.” The story abruptly ended right there.
Now, here’s how the story looked in a laptop Web browser:
You can see that USA Today had built a table-driven display, featuring an individual representing each of the several categories of respondents that USA Today had identified in its poll.
Now, here was the front page of the travel section on MSNBC’s mobile version last night:
Hey, I love Hawaii! Let’s click and take a look at some of those tips for a cheap trip to Oahu:
Uh…. huh? Yep, that’s it: a head, a deck and a shirttail. No article.
Let’s now fire up the laptop and see how the piece looks in the “normal” version of Safari:
Oh, it’s a photo gallery. It appears that MSNBC hasn’t yet devised a way to transfer content from online photo galleries into mobile pages. Indeed, MSNBC frequently uses this technique for travel articles, especially with tips and “best of” lists, and none of them ever comes up fully on its mobile site.
Neither of these were isolated examples, buried deep within their mobile versions. The USA Today article was on the “top stories” tab of its iPhone app, and the Oahu “non-article” was the lead piece on its Travel section.
Clearly, these omissions represent significant usability failures for these publishers, as well as any others guilty of the same errors. If you can’t port an article over to your mobile version in a useable format, better not to attempt to publish there at all.
But, better yet, news publishers should take the advice that many online journalists have been offering from years – quit encasing your content in a single, specific format. Store it XML, or some other format, that can easily adapt to multiple publishing formats for multiple devices. Then assign someone to look at the product, before or after publication, to ensure that it’s come through properly. If it hasn’t, hold that article until you can fix it. It’s time to show mobile readers some love, and not hope that they’ll remain content with whatever feed your tech crew wrote.
News organization’s desire to create impressive Web graphics and presentations becomes counter-productive when those presentations are not available to mobile users. It doesn’t matter how pretty your design team makes something if the fastest growing segment of your market can never see it.