Mobile Practices and Search

Megan Fox

Megan Fox

Megan Fox, a well-known expert on mobile platforms, looked at trends in mobile information and how it affects trends in library services.  The Pew Internet & American Life project predicts that the mobile device will  be the primary connection tool to the  Internet for most people in the world by 2020,  so it is critical for libraries to recognize this and move aggressively to develop services for mobile platforms.  About half of the traffic comes from iPhones, and many of today’s new devices mimic the iPhone.  The corporate world was an early adopter of the BlackBerry, giving it a large market share, so it is important for libraries to develop services for BlackBerries.  The BlackBerry has the advantage that it is carrier-neutral, in contrast to the iPhone.

Some of Today's Mobile Devices

Some of Today's Mobile Devices

Increasingly, keyboard input is being augmented by other input modes (wow!):

  • “Extelligence” is a new feature of some mobile devices.  Just snap a photo of a barcode or an item, and the SnapTell service will give you links to Amazon, Google, eBay, etc.  Cool!
  • Tellme uses audio input to return information.
  • Librarian for iPhones monitors noise levels and if they exceed a set level, it says “Shhh”.
  • Many devices come with GPS interfaces that know where you are and deliver maps and location information.
  • Gesture interactures can be measured by built-in accelerometers, so you can switch from portrait to landscape when the device is rotated.  One new phone can even gauge the amount of air moving across it–blow someone a kiss through your mobile device!  In the Google Map  operation, some phones can change the view based on its motion.

New mobile browsers from nearly all providers will enhance Web interactions.  Lots of content is being created specifically for mobile devices;  this is called the “mobile  web”.  There is even a new .mobi domain for mobile devices, and some libraries have developed web sites.  There is a large industry optimizing regular web content for mobile platforms–this is called the “transcoded” mobile web.  So users could be getting 3 different types of websites on their mobile devices:  regular web pages, transcoded pages, and pages developed especially for mobile devices.  If you are creating mobile versions of content, there are many sites that will check your site for suitability.

Many mobile websites are called the “Snack Web“: a small amount of the web browsed between desktop visits.  What is needed most for mobile users?  Location information or directions (“find a store”), dictionaries, directories, latest news, quick snippets, and similar content are especially important.  Here are some interesting applications available:

  • Many libraries are starting to develop mobile sites that describe their traditional content, hours, branches, etc.  Some of them have implemented AirPAC allowing mobile users to search their catalogs. 
  • See Suzanne Chapman’s Flickr pages collecting images of library websites for mobile devices. 
  • The iPhone app store contains over 2,400 books–the 3rd most popular after games and entertainment. 
  • TravelingClassics reads books aloud to the user, and the Kindle iPhone app can synchronize a book to the farthest page. 
  • The International Children’s Digital Library has beautiful children’s books.

Many more examples of mobile applications and upcoming trends such as texting, SMS input, library applications of texting , services for children (as young as 3!) and voice input are available on Megan’s website which contains all her slides.

What’s next?  Flexible touch screens, device that can project screen images, solar powered touchscreen phones made from recycled plastic bottles, faster connections, longer battery life, and cheaper devices.  Stay tuned!

Mobile devices have come  a long way in a short time.   I guess I should hurry up and upgrade my ancient first-generation phone!

Don Hawkins
Columnist, Information  Today and CIL  2009 Blog Coordinator


  1. Megan Fox on Mobile Searching (continued) | Infotoday Blog - April 1, 2009

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