Thursday, September 18, 2008

ABC Mobile Web design

ABC's Media Watch program ("ABC Designs For The Future",15 September 2008), had a detailed discussion of the possibility of advertising on new ABC mobile web sites. Contrary to what the program said, the ABC could simply and cheaply provide a mobile option for its existing site. Examples were show of prototype ABC Weather, ABC Grandstand Sport and news pages. Most of the analysis was about the appropriateness of having advertisements on an ABC web site. What didn't seem to get discussed was why have separate mobile sites at all. The ABC's web site, including media watch already work on mobile devices and just need some minor improvements to make all the ABC web pages available on mobiles.

Presenter Jonathan Holmes said: "Try to view ordinary websites on one of the flash new 3G mobile devices like Blackberry and iPhone, and they're very clunky. And they'll also quickly bust your download cap. So everyone's racing to develop new, mobile friendly, websites - the ABC included...". That is certainly the case for Media Watch's own web site, which when viewed on a mobile device (I used Opera's "Small Screen" open to emulate a mobile device) has too much content and too much animation. However, this can be fixed by simplifying the standard web site and then using the options built into web standards to have it adapt when viewed on Mobile devices.

By making the main web site mobile compatible, this will also improve the quality of the web site for all users. Web designers have a tendency to clutter web pages with too much content. Mobile devices have small screens and limited bandwidth, providing a useful curb on the designer's enthusiasm. Where high bandwidth is required, the web server can automatically adjust the content to suit the device.

There have been several past attempts by the mobile phone and web industries to make mobile web sites a viable business. These attempts have mostly failed. The ABC should make a small investment in making all its web content mobile compatible. This can be done with a small project and mostly using automated tools. It would be a minimal expense and effort compared to creating and maintaining multiple new web sites. After it has done that the ABC can see who actually wants to view what content on which mobile devices. The popular services can then be improved.

Billions of dollars have been lost over the last ten years by companies attempting to create a profitable business from mobile web sites. If more companies wish to risk more money in the attempt, they are free to do so, with the consent of their investors. However, the ABC is a government owned enterprise funded by the public and so not be investing heavily in speculative ventures with minimal chance of success. The ABC is required by law to make its services widely available. There are ways for the ABC to provide mobile web access at minimal expense with little risk using available technology. I suggest the ABC take that approach and leave risky DOT.COM style web speculation to others.

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