The Guardian recently revamped and relaunched its mobile site, with the end result being a big improvement on the old version, making it now one of the better mobile news sites.
I've been asking The Guardian's mobile product manager Marcus Austin about the new mobile site, the thinking behind the design and features, and how it works across different mobile devices.
The Guardian seemed to be quicker than others to adapt to the web, so why has it taken so long to relaunch the mobile site?
The Guardian originally dipped its toe into the mobile water back in 2000, with an experimental Wap version of the site. And this eventually morphed into a mobile site in 2000 using AvantGo, and that’s where we stuck, until last year.
At the beginning of 2008 it was decided that the mobile marketplace had some good solid tools to enable us to produce a great user experience to a wider range of users, and at the same time devices like the iPhone also created an audience hungry for mobile content.
Why have you launched your own dedicated mobile site and moved away from the AvantGo platform?
AvantGo was a good solution, for its time, but it's a complicated solution to explain to users. When it was chosen, mobiles were slow, data costs were high and it was incredibly complicated to fathom out how to get the internet on your phone, but things have changed.
Over the past few years the number of mobile devices like the iPhone which is capable of producing a good, usable, mobile experience has multiplied, and at the same time, connection speeds have moved from a few kbits per second to almost broadband speeds, and additionally all-you-can-eat mobile tariffs are fast becoming the norm. So it started to make good sense to move away from AvantGo, and to go for a solution that could cater for a wider group of users and devices.
What were the challenges in developing a usable mobile site?
There are two major challenges; getting the experience right for as many devices as possible, so that the site performs as well on a low-end phone as it does on an iPhone. And trying to expose as much of our data as possible, on a screen that is always going to be too small.
What other changes are coming to Guardian mobile?
We’re looking at ways of getting more content on to the site. At the moment the site contains data taken from over 70 different sections and so it covers the majority of the main site and papers daily output. We’re aiming for an exact 1-to-1 correlation between the site and the mobile site, so that a reader can start reading an article at work and continue reading it on the train home.
Have you restricted the amount of content on the mobile site to keep it more manageable or can users access any content from mobile?
The only restriction we’ve made is to split articles into pages, something we had to do so that popular low-end phones like the Motorola Razr could use the site without going over their 19k page limit. And so far we’ve had no complaints about articles being too long, in fact the only complaints we have had were people seem to prefer to read the article in one great big piece.
Do you have any plans for an iPhone app?
Yes, we'd be stupid not to look at the iPhone application marketplace. I believe the application market will replace the on-portal market as one of the main distribution platforms for mobile content, it's just a question of time, it could be in 6 weeks, 6 months, or it could be next year, though I think we're talking months.
How did you approach the issue of making the site usable for different mobile devices?
We split the devices by screen resolution and created four families of device; low, medium, high, and very high, that roughly follow the MMA guidelines on mobile adverts. The lowest resolution devices get an almost text-only version, and we add more functionality in as the resolution increases.
Have you done much research into the kinds of mobiles that Guardian readers use to access the site?
Not really, we were trying to be device agnostic. We knew what devices successfully managed to access the web version of the site but we knew that there were also many devices that didn't appear on the radar because they were unable to cope with the number of images and the sheer size of the pages.
Are you automatically redirecting mobile users to the site?
Yes we're doing a redirect, but at present we only redirect users coming to the root directory (www.guardian.co.uk), we're doing some work on phase 2 that will enable us to redirect traffic, on all pages. Additionally we also have a link at the top of the page to tell mobile users that a mobile version of the site exists.
How have you approached the issue of advertising on the mobile site?
We have sponsored sections, we have ad banners, and we're also using Google AdSense.