Publishing for Mobile and Tablets, Why Does It Have To Be So Hard?

My Interactive team has been driving the mobile strategy for the company since 2007, launching hundreds of mobile apps, mobile websites and iPad apps. Those products have been revised over the years, but it’s become clear lately that we need to take our approach to mobile to the next level.

Over the past few months, we have been putting the final touches on a next-generation mobile and tablet apps strategy. We used user data as well as analytics data for our mobile websites, apps and iPad products.

Generally speaking, our news apps have been fairly easy to maintain since they are RSS feeds into a template design. iPad publishing on our “The Peel” app, however, is a different story.  The Peel features a combination of curated and original content.  The process to upload this original content is time-intensive. We have to manually work with each story to create a uniquely interactive experience for iPad consumers that expect dynamic functionality.

As we considered our next generation of products, it was apparent that we needed to improve on the user experience and increase our speed to market (improving on productivity with the backend content management system).  With 2 years of trials and tribulations under our belt, I can certainly say that our strategy for content, design creativity and innovation clearly outweighs our ability to deliver at a desired speed-to-market using the current legacy systems we have in place.

Advertisers expect a unique and compelling experience on mobile and tablets, as do consumers.  But how do we meet these needs when we continue to pull from existing legacy content production systems with ever increasing limitations? Example of limitations: Photo & video resolutions in existing systems don’t take advantage of hi-resolution retina display on an iPad. News stories are currently laid out to fit desktop or printed page, not mobile or tablet, and HTML5 is a foreign language to most.

The answer? Bite-the-bullet! Recognize that if you want to succeed you MUST publish for the future and think about investing in non-legacy products.  Easy enough? Not so much. More issues are arising with each upgrade of smart phone and tablet operating systems. Not easy to stay ahead of the technology curve when newspapers are inherently print-oriented.

Rahul Patel wrote Are Publishers Failing on Tablets:  “Tablet readers expect the best of both worlds.  They want real-time content and web-like interactivity within a user-friendly brand experience that “feels” like the same brand found on the web and in print.” This comment is more focused on magazines but the basic premise is correct for newspapers as well.

So, how can legacy media businesses evolve with technology?  Well, this is our attempt at it:

1)   We focused on the desired design layout.

2)   We decided how often we wanted to publish new content.

3)   We focused on how we could deliver original content that took advantage of HTML5 elements to bring the information to life.

4)   We looked carefully at how smart phone design and functionality differed from tablet design and functionality.

5)   We created our next-generation layout, and assumed it would last about 12 months.

6)   We also asked ourselves “How do we continually feed this beast”?  After all, we had been going on the assumption that we could continue with our legacy systems…

7)   CMS (Onset) & our publishing system (CCI) provide what we need to publish, however the process is labor-intensive, and this production process gets heavier as technology progresses faster and faster! We are just adding to the production time each day as we pursue the best possible experience for our audience.

It’s now time for us to rethink another next-generation process, as we must free ourselves from the current time-intensive workflow environment.  A publishing system and or process should not drive what you deliver to your audience.  That’s the job of the audience.

The Interactive ‘think-tank’ has devised a system where any CMS would feed into a “normalization engine” which would then put all content into its proper place.  The normalization engine would feed the templates automatically, therefore increasing the speed of production.  A dashboard would allow for manual manipulation of the content.  We could pull in HTML5 components, hi-res photos etc.  We could then push to any template we have in place regardless of the device.  Assuming success, we would now spend our time on the creativity of design and interactivity, changeable at your fingertips! This new process would break the heavy production cycle.  The content becomes ubiquitous and our time could be spent at the dashboard level making each interactive experience the best ever.

Not such an easy task… and the hardest part is foregoing the existing production system/workflow environment. If you don’t, you’ll never be able to deliver the experience expected in mobile and tablet publishing on a time-sensitive basis. The key to success is not allowing process or outdated publishing systems drive product.

Stay tuned, every day we learn more.

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