The Government of Canada’s Common Look and Feel standards are the playbook for maintaining our websites. They were last updated in 2006, before the buzz on “social media,” before the explosion of the mobile web. (“Web 2.0″ was a major trend at the time, one that these standards more or less avoided completely.)
Now, updates to CLF are in the works, but until they are released, we’re still playing by 2006 rules. & we all know that four years is an eternity online.
This nugget on mobile got me thinking:
The spread of mobile media devices, whether smartphones or iPads or Nooks, has led to tailored software applications that make reading text and watching video easier on screens smaller than those on personal computers. So people are not viewing this mobile media through a Web browser like Internet Explorer or Firefox, a central point in the Wired “Web Is Dead” article. But the books, magazines and movies viewed on an iPad, for example, are downloaded over the Internet. Indeed, Wired added the headline declaration, “Long Live the Internet.” Similarly, the case for Facebook’s fall someday is that it is a cluttered Web creation when mobile devices demand sleek, simple designs. [via Now Playing - Night of the Living Tech - NYTimes.com]
The same can be said for GoC CLF-compliant websites — they are “cluttered web creations” that may happen to be viewable via mobile devices, but provide relatively poor user experience.
So for me, a mobile site or app is needed. A colleague remarked to me recently that he felt that given improvements in how the browsers work in smartphones, it would make more sense to focus efforts on dedicated mobile apps. I’m not so sure. I don’t have access to an iPhone, but I can tell you that the browser on the Blackberry is, to put it mildly, not so hot.
& there’s another reason why I think mobile sites have their place — in a lot of cases, I feel that users would have a low level of motivation to go through the effort of downloading and installing a dedicated app to interact with GoC content.
Anyhow, here’s a couple of screencaps from my Blackberry browser (version 4.7.1, so not the latest but fairly recent) that illustrate how CLF sites look when you first access them. If you are using a desktop display (such as what I’m using now), keep in mind that these look much smaller on a mobile device.
I find I always need to spend some time zooming and panning to get at readable content. And if I’m not familiar with the site in question, while I’m exploring, I’m also trying to envisage what it “ought” to look like if it were on a laptop- or desktop-sized screen. Even if you know the site well, it often takes several tries to make the page readable. I’m very familiar with the weather forecast for Ottawa example for instance (it’s the start page on my BBerry browser), and I’ve got the routine for it down pat: on load, click the magnifying glass, then scroll to the text forecast, then hit the menu button and select column view to render it in a way that I can read it without squinting.
I’m not sure I’d want to force my users to put up with this kind of experience. Patient and forgiving users (like me!) are few and far between. But even the impatient and unforgiving are starting to use the mobile web in a big way — so we should be adapting to this in a way that lets them get at our content with a minimum of hassle.
The approach that CIC and PHAC appear to have taken is to create a separate mobile site that focuses on top-task content drawn from the main site. Another route could be to implement mobile styles on the main site itself so that users can experience any page without all the zooming and panning. I can think of advantages and pitfalls to both — what’s your take?