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Why there's no news on our mobile homepage

Submitted by yelvington on February 11, 2013 - 10:46am

We recently relaunched our mobile website at SavannahNow.com without a bit of news on the homepage. Web design tools have come a long way since the days of table-driven layout and smartphones have more processing power than yesterday's desktops, so why did we do this? For simplicity's sake.

Yeah, we have HTML5, CSS with media queries, and Javascript. But something had to go. Even if your phone is one of those dorky-looking five-inch phablets, it doesn't have enough display space to accommodate the mission conflict that reigns on the typical homepage: navigation, content recommendation, and commercial recommendation (advertising).

So the content went -- all of it. Now navigation rules. Weather, movie listings, real estate and other features that were drowned in a cascade of news are now easy to find.

We did this last year at Amarillo.com and the result was overwhelmingly positive -- the site nearly tripled its mobile pageviews in six months. The "splash screen" doesn't slow anyone down.

Our mobile site is implemented using the "m-dot" trick: mobile devices are detected and automatically redirected to m.sitename.com for a mobile-optimized experience. Relative URL paths match, so socially shared links just work. Commenting is integrated.

Do we still need to do this, now that we have HTML5 and media queries? The simple answer is yes; the more complicated answer is no. It's not difficult to handle multiple devices with responsive layout when the page mission is not overloaded; we are using HTML5 for our new event calendar and will do so for new designs going forward.

But while media queries and device-specific formatting can go a long way, they're not so good at device-specific content. For that, we'll have to learn to implement pages with a very heavy reliance on scripting and AJAX data rather than pumping out HTML and CSS. It is the desktop display, not the mobile display, that is the real challenge.

Over the years desktop homepages have been highly resistant to simplification -- and not just because of internal demands. A large segment of the user base didn't like the radical four-lozenge (News/Share/Shop/Do) design that SavannahNow tried in the middle of the last decade. What works for mobile doesn't work for the mouse-and-windows crowd.