Mobile not snails

Possibly the most depressing paragraph I’ve read in a long time:

Speaking on the panel at the launch of the report in London, the Guardian’s executive editor of digital Aron Pilhofer said “mobile has snuck up” on publishers and it is a platform that they “have only recently started to take seriously.”

While I understand that many of them were burnt by the WAP era of phones, where people desperately tried to persuade us that this was the future of the internet – and it very clearly wasn’t – there’s little excuse for not realising by 2010 that the iPhone and Android were transformative mobile experiences that were rapidly building traffic share. This is the web all over again – publishers miss a transformation, and struggle to catch up.

We keep getting attacked by the snails

The original sin of mobile

If there’s an original sin of mobile, it was the assumption that mobile was what people did when they were away from their desks. I can’t count the number of meetings or workshops where I’ve been confronted by that idea. And it was always false, it’s just becoming ever more provably so.

But, for a while, it completely distracted corporate decision makers, who did most of their reading on desktop screens, and whose sense of the mobile internet was defined by their corporate BlackBerry – a status symbol for many that blinded them to the revolution their less prestigious staff were experiencing.

Now, of course, most are aware that that BlackBerry is in pretty serious trouble, and that the mobile web is closing in on – or exceeding – 50% of publisher site traffic. We’re in a mobile-dominant world. They can’t ignore it any more.

And, indeed, finally, some publishers are taking the transition really seriously:

Starting Monday, The New York Times will temporarily bar employees inside its Manhattan headquarters from accessing the desktop homepage in an effort to emphasize the importance of mobile devices.

Excellent move – force staff who’ve got too accustomed to sitting at their desk at their desktop computer to experience the site as the majority (or close to it) of their users do.

Buzzfeed competes for your precious notification attention

The importance of the mobile web is without question; what remains more open to challenge is the role of mobile apps in news. Buzzfeed are taking a serious punt at making an app that works – but are relying heavily on notifications to make that vision come true. One of the two buttons on the app’s home screen is devoted to configuring them:

Buzzfeed news

This addresses the major issue of news apps to date: nobody bloody opens them. We install them, play with them, and then forget about them. We just go back to getting our news via social networks instead.

Because the Buzzfeed app really encourages you to go look at the Notification settings, turn them on, and choose the news you want (in a pretty US-centric way right now), it has a fair chance of actually holding people’s attention. The trick will be in creating the right frequency and interest level within those notifications to keep people coming back to the app without annoying them enough that they uninstall it.

This is a nuance that many publishers will probably miss – it’s not just being on a device that matters, it’s finding a way of competing with the video apps and the games and the social media apps to actually spend some time open and in use. And that’s a tough fight. Notifications are the next platform – and the battle for news attention will probably be fought on them.