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Rethinking mobile at #ONACamp
Last weekend, I helped out with an ONA dCamp of mobile. It’s been brewing for awhile, before I even got into mobile, but after a long conversation about products, mobile and product teams with folks like Damon Kiesow and Eric Ulken at ONA13, Damon, with the help of the amazing Miranda Mulligan, made a conversation into a reality.
[Sidebar: Part of my interest in this is the struggle for a traditionally “non-tech” person like myself to budge into product teams. I am not a strong coder, but I can work with people who code. Is that enough? Depends on who you talk to.]
You can read this to see a little bit of what we did, but here are my takeaways.
I wrote this on one of our sticky notes. We can talk about the Internet of things, or wearable technology. But what all those things come down to, is that they know.
Some of the best apps, the ones I use every day, they know. It’s creepy, but what constitutes privacy is changing. Mynd, my calendar app, knows who I am meeting with next and shows me their LinkedIn profile. My alarm clock app, with a little input, has told me I sleep better when I drink tea and work out.
But news apps, news sites, they have never known. Not well, really. They might know what your friends have posted on Facebook from that site, but that’s hardly interesting.
What if you gave it access to your calendar and Facebook, and it told you Rob likes the Atlanta Braves and feeds you a few stories so you can make a tense meeting more relaxed? What if it told you the hotel you’re about to check into had break-ins last month that are still unsolved?
We can’t beat Facebook, but we can find spaces in the day
At least a couple teams tried to work on this. In our group the conversation went back and forth as to whether we — as news companies — really can compete with the timesucks of Facebook and Twitter, and the information gatherers like Flipboard.
But there are other moments in the day we can find. We can fill in the time where we’re waiting in line. The time when our readers wake up. The time when our readers are doing research. The time when they are looking up what is happening down the street. Is there a tree down?
We spend a lot of time focusing on the time of day we’re on mobile (early and evening) but the questions is what is our audience doing then? It’s not about time, it’s about activity. My hiking app has become indispensable when I’m out in the woods. Outside of the world of mobile, public radio is obsessed with drive time. Those moments, when people are trapped in the car and need something, anything to take their mind off it — driveway moments.
We need better building blocks
This is the least sexy thing. But it’s the most important. We can’t build anything for mobile unless we can actually program, write for, and control mobile. Most mobile websites are slight re-hashes of homepages. But when you’re on your phone, you’re most likely looking for something specific, or something that fills a need (interesting, funny, etc).
But to build something where the mobile display feel radically different, customized, we need to start somewhere better.
The building blocks can’t be
It’s got to be more like:
- Nut graf
- Inline image
- Background info
Our CMSs have to be ready for different displays. The preview needs to show not just desktop, but mobile. How can we have outstanding mobile products if our web producers and our mobile producers are just reproducing the same story, with the same basic elements? What’s the point of having two people if our systems won’t even let us produce different things?
If we crunch everything down to building blocks, then it’s easier to build on breaking news (goodbye, timestamps!!) and we can scale up easily to large scale projects without freaking out about mobile in the end.
In tweet form, other thoughts that crossed my mind over the weekend
We need to get more women interested in mobile, in the tech side. Female product managers in news? A rare sight.
Push alerts aren’t the answer, they’re the beginning. The more relevant they are (@Circa) they more people use them.
Constant reminder: We are not typical news consumers. We have to stop building for ourselves.
The struggle to get newsroom to think mobile is the same struggle as social. We’re pushing the object of change, not the idea of it.
Big data needs to be broken down into small, actionable data on my phone.