I should warn you that developing stories for mobile is not for the faint of heart. It is not merely moving a print story onto a mobile phone.
Theodore Levitt once said, “People don’t want a quart-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole.” What he says relates to journalism in that people are interested in the information we provide, not necessarily in the way we provide it. If readers can get the information in a more direct way that is more convenient, they will.
Though the journalism industry has been going through an identity crisis, it has not learned the value of sharing ideas and best practices in order to make the entire industry stronger. The following is my account of creating content for a mobile device, with the pitfalls exposed as prominently as the successes.
Developing a theory of mobile
Last fall, I worked with a partner to develop a story on wind energy that was designed for a mobile audience.
We discussed the things that work well for mobile content that we liked and felt appropriately used the strengths of mobile journalism. We created a series of hypotheses that were based off of our analysis of our favorite websites, news stories, interactives and videos from across the Internet. The following are the theories that emerged about the user experience with mobile content:
- We like unique content that is engaging enough to return to more than once and absolutely must be interesting enough to make people share it – pure marketing alone will not get a story out; you must be able to rely on people sharing the story with their friends and colleagues.
- We like options – I want to be able to read/listen/play/ask a question/share the story if those are available for the same story.
- We like when content takes advantage of the things that we can only do on the phone, like swiping, scrolling, integration with texting/twitter/Facebook, and connection to other applications.
- We like intuitive, clean design that is appropriate for the small nature of the screen and works with the verticality of the phone.
Adapting a story
The story we produced included text, a photo gallery and a podcast – all optimized for a smartphone.
For our text piece, we worried people would be scared off by the length, so we made sure to use subsections with in the story to create clear breaks when reading. Additionally, we made sure that every paragraph could fit on an iPhone screen (the smallest mobile device screen) so that readers wouldn’t have to scroll to finish a paragraph.
The photo gallery is fully of photos that work in favor of the vertical screen and only use vertical or square crops, since horizontal photos would appear very small on the phone screen.
The podcast is just over 20 minutes, which is about the average length of a commute in the United States, meaning that people can listen to it in the car or when walking or running. All of these things are deliberate choices that we made in creating our content.
Having gone through the process of adapting content to mobile devices, here’s my advice to you. Test it early and test it often and on different devices. If you are trying to create a crazy way to present content, it helps to have a Web developer and programmer who can translate your ideas into code that will work with mobile devices. Finally, don’t be afraid to do something different than what traditional media outlets are doing. Their thinking is how we got to this point in journalism in the first place, so it can’t hurt to shake things up.