Theory and Practice: Designing for Effective Mobile Content (Service) Delivery

Theory and Practice: Designing for Effective Mobile Content (Service) Delivery

Alix Vance (Architrave Consulting, USA) and David Wojick (U.S. Department of Energy, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61350-308-9.ch010

Abstract

Design of mobile applications to deliver reference content and services is a new grand challenge. We present a template of design considerations, ranging from the general theory of content restructuring to strategic planning and tactical execution.
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Background

Web-like applications for the smartphone and other portable devices are a new medium of reference communication that has arrived. Often called simply “apps,” this medium is an alternative to the familiar Web page, but with very different design requirements. The reference community has myriad projects going to explore and develop apps that will provide access to its many resources and collections. It won’t be easy and it won’t be quick, but it is happening.

Apps have taken off with the phenomenal growth of smartphones and similar hand held computers. Apple alone has hundreds of thousands of apps for its iPhone; some are free, but many are for sale. App development is now a major industry, and several federal government agencies, such as NASA, have fielded popular apps.

There are really two very different kinds of apps, although they may look and feel the same. The standalone or native app is one that runs on the mobile device, as a piece of native software. Common examples include games, a scheduler, a dictionary, or other reference works, photo albums, et cetera. No outside connection is required to use these apps, although they are typically acquired by downloading from the Web. The content of these apps is typically static, except for user inputs.

Then there is the Web app, which is really a Web site designed for the tiny screen of the mobile device. The Web app is viewed using the device’s Web browser, so no special software is required. As with any Web site, the Web app requires the user to be online when it is used. And as with many Web pages, Web apps can have dynamic content. Common examples are similar to Web uses, such as news, weather, or search engines. However, there is also a hybrid kind of app, which runs in standalone mode, but which is updated via the Web.

It is estimated that the volume of mobile access to the Web is now greater than desktop computer access. However, the vast bulk of Web pages are still designed for large format desktop and laptop computer screens. Thus, the vast bulk of accessible reference material is still not designed for mobile access. It is this challenge that we address below.

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