News – Not Just In Newspapers, But Still Just As Mobile

An important facet of maximizing the impact of a business’s product or service is to make your potential customer base as large as possible, by not excluding any possible mediums of distribution. In the early years of computing the Personal Computer (PC) was the only device web services would be required to cater to. As the PC was a very defined unit, the content would be designed specifically to work on this device and this would work for all users.

However the PC is no longer the only device that can access internet applications and as such web services must design their website for all devices, or risk reducing the value of their business by being limited to users of a single device. An important development in computing is the emergence of mobile devices as a large source of accessing the web. Users  want to be connected to the web at all times, which is done easily via mobile devices, and although there is still not seamless access to the web it is of vital importance that businesses make themselves available as much as possible.

An important case worth discussing against this technology pattern is the distribution of news. Originating from newspapers this method of distribution thrived on its ease of access and mobility, now with the rise in mobile web access these features can be repeated by supplying news via mobile devices. This post will concentrate specifically on 7 News’ use of multiple platforms to distribute news to a wider audience and how it has used this pattern successfully.

7news_switch

1. Design from the start to share data across devices, servers and networks

Although Seven News is quite successful as a television program and desktop website, news is most successful when it is easy to access on the move (eg. Newspapers), as most users will wish to access it while commuting to work. With the rise in mobile devices this has been made possible digitally, via the Seven News App available on the iTunes and Android stores. By developing a separate application for the use on different devices and connecting them to the same servers, Seven News is able to provide a tailored experience to each device while providing users with the same news stories.

2. Think Location Aware

The iPhone and Android apps make use of the location tracking setting to provide local news relevant to where the user lives. Therefore each user will be able to view both national news and news stories that could potentially effect them. As most mobile devices will be running of their mobile data, the app allows users to download stories through their free WiFi at home and access the saved stories on the move. Therefore allowing access to news stories even when an internet connection is not available.

3. Use the power of the network to make the edge smarter

As servers will always be more powerful than individual’s mobile devices, Seven News (as with many internet services) perform any heavy calculations on the server side and simply provide the result to users. The Seven News app simply receives HTML pages in response to any news story the user clicks and videos can even be streamed off the main servers aswell. This reduces any calculations on the users devices to simply requesting and receiving HTML code.

4. Leverage devices as data and rich media sources

By allowing users to share and create content on their mobile devices you allow a constant and up-to-date stream of media. Seven News lacks in this respect as it does not allow users to comment on news articles which could potentially bring a social aspect to reading the news. Although comments would have to be monitored, the resulting discussion of news articles would be highly beneficial to providing users with extended viewpoints.

5. Make one-click peer-production a priority

Due to the smaller size and processing power or mobile devices, the limitations in input and display need to be considered to minimize usage barriers. Seven News has developed this external iPhone and Android app to compensate for these differences in devices, by providing the user with a simple and easy to use interface. This allows articles to be easily accessed and read on smaller, touch-screen devices.

Important News needs to be distributed through many mediums

Important News needs to be distributed through many mediums

There are however potential issues and debates around the improper use of services over multiple devices which will be discussed below.

Compatibility Issues

With the wide range of devices available that can access web services it is important that applications are developed to be compatible with as many as possible. For Apple devices an App Store application will need to be developed, along with a similar application for the Android store. By developing downloadable applications you can ensure compatibility with the devices in that medium, rather than just relying on a simple web page.

Connectivity Issues

As most mobile devices rely on WiFi to download data, or otherwise use up expensive mobile credit, it is important to provide ways for users to be connected at all times. Seven News has accomplished this by downloading news stories whenever the user has a WiFi connection available, allowing users to access these at later times.

Gmail – The Rich Company Giving A Rich User Experience

Providing a ‘Rich User Experience’ is of high importance when developing an online service or application, after all users are the driving force for company growth and by providing them an in-depth, rewarding user experience you can be reassured of their return. The concept of providing a Rich User Experience (RUE) is based on the concept of combining the best elements from desktop and online applications.

Desktop application are renowned for providing a highly interactive and responsive experience with rich, graphical user interfaces. However now using web-based software no longer means sacrificing the quality of the user experience, as classic client applications can be moved to lightweight browser based applications which support continuous interactions. Therefore users can be provided with the processing power they require along with the benefits of web applications (such as wide availability, multiple platform support and networking features).

This post will concentrate on how Gmail’s take on email applications has superseded the traditional desktop email application service due to the following methods of best practice that will be discussed in-depth below.

Gmail

1. Combine the Best of Desktop & Online Experiences

Desktop applications are traditionally known to be quick, powerful and provide a large array of functionality for the user, where online applications are traditionally known to be easy to access anywhere, multiplatform supportive and easy to use. By combining the positive elements of desktop applications with the ease of access of online applications, Gmail has been able to create a RUE as an email provider. Users are able to view, open and save emails all without navigating to a different page, as well as being able to view their emails from any computer with an internet connection. This is a major improvement on the classic Microsoft Outlook email service which although equally powerful, is only accessible from a single computer.

2. Usability and Simplicity First

The most important element for any application (desktop or online) is that user engagement, efficiency and effectiveness come first. As clearly demonstrated by the simplistic design of the Google search engine, functionality and usability come before a fancy user interface. And this is also demonstrated with the Gmail service, where emails are shown in the common layout that most users are familiar with, with access to inbox and viewing emails the top priority.

3. Search Over Structure

Commonly users will want to navigate immediately to what they are looking for, in the traditional way this required them to click through menus and links, however now users are familiar with using search functions to find things. This is especially important with an email service as users will often want to look for a particular sender or topic in email, this is where Gmail provides a search box where users can find anything said within the email (including the sender, topic or body).

4. Deep, Adaptive Personalization

Just as with desktop applications, it is important for online applications to provide an adaptive environment to users to increase efficiency. This has been done in Gmail through suggestive text in search boxes and allowing users to select senders to always be moved to different inboxes. These features help anticipate the users needs and by remembering their preferences, they can adapt to further fulfil the requirements of the user.

There are however also some issues and debates about incorrectly used RUE’s which will also be explored below.

Compatibility and Complexity Issues

A major problem with application development (both online and desktop applications) is to make the program available for multiple platforms. By developing Gmail as an online application it has removed the need to develop alternative versions for different operating systems, however it has added the problem of different browsers. Gmail has overcome this by developing their program to work on the majority of available browsers, however problems can arise due to the different ways each browser processes the application code.

Potential Performance Issues

A well designed RUE program can improve performance by decreasing the system and network loads, however poorly constructed ones do the opposite. Therefore it is of vital importance that research into the development and creation of these systems are undertaken to ensure the effectiveness of the application.

Uncertain Impact on Web Analytics and Advertising Metrics

Advertising has become one of the largest sources of revenue for online companies and therefore how the advertisement is displayed needs to be understood when creating a RUE. Due to RUE’s remaining on the same page to perform multiple tasks, ad refreshes and page counts need to be implemented correctly with the new system.

It is evident that creating a RUE is an important step in moving from the traditional Web 1.0 (click and wait) pages, to the new seamless Web 2.0 web pages and is a vital part in creating a competitive online company.