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The Case for Investing in the Mobile Web Continues to Build

August 26, 2010 Leave a comment

Students Accessing the Web

Too many resources are sucked up by the process of designing and re-designing our websites.  We’re wasting valuable time poring over navigation, color palettes and spiffy Flash animation.

None of those aesthetic flourishes matter for a great many of the people who actually visit the site, because they do it through aggregators or on mobile devices:

How grcc.edu Shows Up on a Blackberry Curve

How grcc.edu Shows Up on a Blackberry Curve

PRSA Tactics had a brief (“Survey: Blacks, Hispanics are Most Active on Mobile web” by Kyra Auffermann) in the “Diversity Dimensions” section that cited Pew Research Center numbers that reinforce the case for everyone (but especially higher ed institutions given the dramatic increase in minority enrollment during this economic downturn) to do more to invest in making information and services available to the mobile web.

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Among the findings (which continue to show that mobile phones are the primary connection of minorities to the web):

  • Rate of Cell Phone Ownership:
    • African Americans & English-Speaking Hispanics: 87%
    • Whites: 80%
  • Rate of Wireless Internet Use:
    • African Americans & English-Speaking Hispanics: 46%/51%
    • Whites: 33%

The days of establishing a hub and forcing people to make a pilgimage to it are in the past.  The new dynamic is reaching people where they are, on their terms.  Increasingly that is on social networking platforms, and increasingly that is mobile.

It Took a Cartoon to Spark Thoughtful Higher Ed Web Design Discussion

August 4, 2010 1 comment

I’m an avid reader of the web comic XKCD by Randall Munroe, which offers a daily dose of hilarity in the form of snarky, science/geek-laden humor depicted by stick figures and often charts and graphs.  One recent strip (below) featured a Venn diagram illustrating the problem with most college/university websites:

XKCD Cartoon: "University Website" by Randall Munroe

The instant I saw it I forwarded it to the web team at Grand Rapids Community College, which is gearing up for a redesign of the site.

The comic is a superb example of how comics/cartoons and a bit of humor can parsimoniously strike at the heart of an issue in a way no lengthy academic treatise can.

The comic has been passed around many higher ed circles, and was recently featured in an article by Inside Higher Ed (“No Laughing Matter”) about all of the other web development staff who did exactly what I did the minute they saw the cartoon.  In the comments section, a discussion was sparked and unfortunately much of it focused on “clicks” and navigation – which I don’t feel are the heart of the problem with too many college/university websites.

For what it’s worth, here’s what I had to say:

Navigability is important, but thinking about websites in terms of navigating by clicks ignores how the web has evolved, which has resulted in the dominance of search engines.  It’s far liklier that a prospective student is going to run across the information they need on a college/university website by searching Google than by typing in the domain of the school and picking their way through menus.

Search is doubly-important when it comes to mobile web use (which a growing majority of our students are relying upon as their main connection to the Internet).

Any college/university website that can get students to the information they need in a couple of clicks likely doesn’t have enough information on it to be truly valuable to students; higher education is very information-dense and even portals are strained to provide enough real estate for links to all the content students need.

This is why navigation schemes are inherently problematic, and why they’re de-emphasized as we move toward the Semantic Web where search (and recommendation) are king.

I would rather see an emphasis put on freeing the data locked away in our vast enterprise systems than paring down content to streamline the front page of a website in order to meet an impossible standard.

Rather than trying to please everyone by imposing click limits on navigation – it’s more important to be developing a big footprint online and tagging content so that it’s easily indexed by search tools (and social media platforms).

No Business Cards? How About Your QR Code?

March 8, 2010 6 comments

Derek DeVries QR Code

QR (“quick response”) Codes are bar codes that can be scanned by most newer mobile phones (with cameras) to quickly transfer information. It’s pretty simple; you turn on the QR reader (which will use your phone’s camera) and the phone will recognize and decode the information contained in the barcode.  The new version(s) of Blackberry messenger incorporate QR codes to speed up the process of adding friends (it’s way better than trying to sync PINs).  The example above is basically my email signature as a QR code.

You’re likely already starting to see them plastered everywhere (I’m going to make sure I have mine on my next run of personal business cards).  If you want to generate your own QR code, (via Lifehacker) Kaywa.com has a free one you can use (you can then save the file as an image and use it however you see fit): http://qrcode.kaywa.com/

Innovation? – There’s NOT an App for That

January 7, 2010 Leave a comment

Save your organization some money: don’t create an app for the sake of creating an app.

As an attempt at innovative thinking, that idea is well past its shelf life because the novelty has worn off.  They’re the digital equivalent of a pen with your logo and address on it.

Unless you’re truly providing something that people demand, something of value (ie something they can’t get any other way), or using an app in a unique way – you’re wasting resources.  This is particularly true if you’re developing an application for regular web use (as opposed to a mobile platform where computing power and bandwith are scarce and something compact/convenient is itself a benefit … for now).

Rather than letting fans vote on the contents of your beverage, find out what color alert we’re on, or telling a naked woman what to wear/sing in the shower – consider these questions:

  • Does your brand already have a community built around it and can you enhance that community with an app?
  • Is the nature of your product/service such that customers benefit from interacting with it while on the go?
  • Would you like to provide special access/benefits to a select group of early adopters and ardent fans?

If it’s not meeting those criteria – you’d probably be better off putting the money into beefing up your customer service operations.

#EpicFail: Verizon Accepts Payola to Force Bing on Users

December 23, 2009 Leave a comment

The public is thirsty for flexibility: “there’s an app for that” has become a meme, the hot new mobile device‘s key feature is that it’s unlocked.  So if you’re Verizon – why in the hell are you forcing users of your best-selling phones to use one of the most unpopular search products?

Verizon Accepts Payola to Force Bing on Customers

It broke (quietly) a few days ago that Verizon is now forcing owners of some smartphones (like the Blackberry Storm 2) to use Bing, Microsoft’s search engine.  It’s not just resetting the default search to Bing; no – it’s blocking them from using other search tools like Google.  The move is apparently part of a $500 million, five-year advertising/promotional contract.

Let’s be honest – Bing is a turd.  To channel Levar Burton, “but you don’t have to take my word for it:”  Google is mopping the floor with Bing in terms of raw user data, James Fallows of the Atlantic just conducted a failed experiment in writing an article using Bing, and Mashable’s readers just trounced Bing in a poll this month.

I wonder if Verizon is stupid enough to try to force Droid users to suffer with Bing (completely undermining the identity of the product they’ve spent millions to frame as free of the constraints that tie down the iPhone).  Let’s hope not.

In my opinion Verizon, Microsoft low-balled you; I wouldn’t risk my brand’s integrity for a paltry $500 million.  Then again, I’m some blogging ass-clown so what do I know, right?

Telemarketing/Spamming on Mobile Phones

July 7, 2009 Leave a comment

Simon & Schuster and the marketing company ipsh! recently lost a court decision after spamming mobile phone owners with text messages promoting Stephen King’s new book. The Telephone Consumer Protection Act currently limits the use of autodialing technologies.

So long as consumers incur any sort of direct “per transaction” cost for the traffic they receive on mobile devices, any marketer that tries to use those platforms for unsolicited advertisements is begging for trouble (and risking cutting themselves off from their audience permanently). It wouldn’t take much for an enterprizing programmer to have a hit iPhone or Blackberry app that blocks unsolicited texts.

Read more…

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