Managing Content in a Mobile World

It is certainly not news that mobile applications have taken the world by storm, but managing content for that world continues to be a key issue.  This panel discussed many of the considerations.

Mobile Content Panel (L-R): Ed Keating (Moderator), Alan Pelz-Sharpe, Robin Neidorf, David Kellog

Alan Pelz-Sharpe, Principal of the Real Story Group led off the discussion and noted that mobile device are enormously diverse and include anything except a PC.  Most organizations are trying to repurpose existing content for a mobile environment.  Will they need to create many different versions of the same content?  How will they be managed?  Devices are increasingly incorporating touch screens–how will this affect existing mobile content applications?

Key concepts for mobile:

  • The publishing model:  pages vs. components.  We need to shift to smaller chunks.
  • Low bandwidth requirements for a limited screen size. There will always be bandwidth limitations.  It may be necessary to break pages into smaller chunks.  This may not be easy.
  • We must consider device-specific capabilities and limitations by adapting content, layout, or templates.
  • Design for mobile and touch interfaces–no double-clicking, dropdown menus, etc. are available.  You will not find a one-stop shop for all of your needs.
  • Content production for a mobile environment is difficult.

Key alternatives:

  • Do nothing and take the attitude “If you can’t read it on your device, go to a PC”.
  • Simple repurposing.  Removing the images helps adapt the content.
  • Broad targeting to specific devices.  This will keep most of the users happy most of the time.
  • Fine targeting to major groups of users.  This is an expensive and complicated area to get into.

Most vendors claim to support delivery to mobile devices, but these claims must  be tested.  There are multiple ways to adapt your content; all require some degree of technical and operational adaption.  The most critical requirement is a component-oriented system, and the controlled use of rich text editors.  Publishing becomes an exercise in trade-offs.  We are not creating different types of content, but a different environment.  (A free copy of Real Story’s report on mobile content is available here.)

Robin Neidorf, Director of Research at FreePint, described a study conducted for the Financial Times on mobile content in enterprises.  27 in-depth interviews were conducted with information managers, then a survey of 100 knowledge workers who use mobile content.

There is a disconnect between mobile workers and mobile content, between security and workflow, and costs and device support.  These were very important to buyers but not to users.  Publishers are interested in the content, but the focus of enterprise content buyers is the worker.

Mobile workers do not want to do their own searches, but they want to send the request to a deskbound searcher and have the results e-mailed to them.  So the deliverable must be enhanced by a mobile platform, not the search.  Vendors must design their products to accommodate this observation.

Many companies have a major investment in Blackberry technology and may be unwilling to shift to other platforms until their investments have paid for themselves.  At present, many users are only thinking about moving to an iPhone or iPad.  New expenditures are not being made in the current economic environment.

Data security is highly important to enterprises when they bring in mobile content.  They want to know where the data is actually stored and managed.  Many organizations have designed their systems for seamless authentication, so that a user never has to remember a password.  This is a major challenge to apply to mobile devices.  Many vendors have not recognized these security issues.

The user surveys showed that the most widely used actions on mobile devices are texting personal contacts, accessing e-mail, and searching via a major search engine.  They are still primarily behaving as consumers rather than knowledge workers in a business.  Airtime and access costs are a primary concern to these users.

David Kellogg, CEO of MarkLogic, continued looking at the mobile opportunity.  Information providers are building services that fuse content and software to help solve business problems–“content in context”.  Many of them know who the user is and where they are, so they are building products to help the become more efficient.  They used to sell a document; now they sell an app.  We need to consider mobile in conjunction with the value proposition, and it’s no secret that mobile devices are increasing and pose hard technology strategy questions.

Kellogg recommends reading Chris Anderson’s story in Wired magazine:  The Web is Dead.  The future is the Internet, and it will be multichannel and mobile.  What is your value proposition?  The bold thing to do is try to change your value proposition to understand how users are using your content, then develop new products to accommodate their behavior, which will certainly include mobile devices.  The web may be dead, but mobile gives us a second chance to develop something for the Internet.

Don Hawkins
Columnist, Information Today and Conference Circuit Blog Editor

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