Nieman Foundation at Harvard
HOME
          
LATEST STORY
As giant platforms rise, local news is getting crushed
ABOUT                    SUBSCRIBE
July 10, 2012, 12:29 p.m.
Mobile & Apps

Moving mobile: ReadWriteWeb chooses responsive design over a native iPhone app

Like other publishers, the tech blog is shifting its mobile development emphasis from apps to the browser.

When ReadWriteWeb pulled its iPhone app off the market a few weeks ago, they didn’t make a big deal about it. In fact, they cut to the chase with a tweet. The app is out — responsive design is in.

RWW is working on a site revamp that’ll employ the same fluid, shape-shifting qualities we’ve seen on BostonGlobe.com. The responsive approach, which allows pages to snap to the proper screen size and orientation regardless of device, has caught on with media companies because it allows them to serve the desktop and mobile audiences with the same code base and eliminates the need to build custom apps for every new significant phone or tablet platform. Apps still have their place, but mobile web is gaining as the default option for developers.

“We have a simple rule: if we can do it in a browser, we use a browser,” Alex Schleifer, general manager of the media lab at SAY Media (which owns ReadWriteWeb) told me. “If we can’t, well, then we consider building an app. We’re look at cases where we need access to the camera or location services and for that we’re building native apps.”

As indicators continue to show we’re going more mobile, publishers are adjusting their strategy to find the best way to serve that audience. And, as it turns out, they’re learning more about their audience’s reading preferences. For ReadWriteWeb, more readers tend to look at the site’s content through the iPhone’s Safari browser than from its iPhone app. And tablets, led overwhelmingly by the iPad, are the fastest growing segment of RWW’s audience.

Schleifer is overseeing the site’s redesign. Over email he told me they’re not abandoning apps, just focusing on a delivery method that’s available on every platform:

People’s behaviours are definitely changing. We just feel it’s best to invest in the mobile browser first, and the app stores later. It’s all-inclusive, and mostly system agnostic. It also feels a little strange that we should go back to a model where everything needs to be installed. The browser is a pretty perfect content delivery platform. Apps have a place, and they’ve completely changed the software landscape, we just don’t believe everything should be an app.

It’s also a weapon against fragmentation: both by new platforms and the increasing variety (in screen sizes, in resolution, in shape) within platforms. “It’s a single template that behaves accordingly on different devices so while you’re tweaking for specific ones you can be more or less sure that it will adapt to any of the hundreds of models coming out,” he emailed. “Samsung’s Note or even the Kindle Fire. We didn’t build for those devices but our templates work because they’re built to be responsive.” Schleifer said RWW is building for responsive images (for those lovely new Retina-class displays) and for orientation awareness. They’re also experimenting, he said, with “complex gestures and even measuring the tilt in some cases.”

One thing that we knew going in was that responsive would be really, really hard. We’ve done some extensive work using some of the technologies going into RWW for sites like Remodelista and you really need to have your framework built properly from the ground up to take full advantage of responsive. An entire framework is being built in parallel with the next RWW. Once some of the key issues were resolved and we could start really thinking about all the things we could do we knew all the effort had been worth it.

There are still issues — they’re debating how to deal with offline reading — but RWW is confident this approach is where to be investing. “I think that, when you’re looking at content consumption, mobile browsers are more than capable to provide an excellent experience,” Schleifer wrote.

POSTED     July 10, 2012, 12:29 p.m.
SEE MORE ON Mobile & Apps
SHARE THIS STORY
   
Show comments  
Show tags
 
Join the 15,000 who get the freshest future-of-journalism news in our daily email.
As giant platforms rise, local news is getting crushed
The quest for scale, driven by the distribution power of a few enormous technology platforms, is killing the business case for local news. Will anything take its place?
Hot Pod: The podcast collective Radiotopia has a new leader
“I keep hearing stories about her being a great mentor to many a young fledgling producer. To me, that willingness to actively think about the next generation of producers is shorthand for proper leadership.”
Building a j-school from scratch: How The New School aims to bring journalism and design together
“I’m not so much interested in specific skills as dispositions. Are we helping people be able to learn really fast, so when things do change they can move with it without completely freaking out?”
What to read next
2569
tweets
The New York Times built a Slack bot to help decide which stories to post to social media
The bot, named Blossom, helps predict how stories will do on social and also suggests which stories editors should promote.
1287Jo Ellen Green Kaiser: Do independent news outlets have a blind spot when it comes to ethnic media?
The head of the Media Consortium argues that, by defining themselves in opposition to mainstream media, independent progressive outlets miss out on the power of ethnic and community journalism.
1029Newsonomics: 10 numbers on The New York Times’ 1 million digital-subscriber milestone
Digital subscribers are proving to be the bedrock of the Times’ business model going forward. How much more room is there for growth — and at what price points?
These stories are our most popular on Twitter over the past 30 days.
See all our most recent pieces ➚
Fuego is our heat-seeking Twitter bot, tracking the links the future-of-journalism crowd is talking about most on Twitter.
Here are a few of the top links Fuego’s currently watching.   Get the full Fuego ➚
Encyclo is our encyclopedia of the future of news, chronicling the key players in journalism’s evolution.
Here are a few of the entries you’ll find in Encyclo.   Get the full Encyclo ➚
Chi-Town Daily News
The Seattle Times
The Sunlight Foundation
Instapaper
Ushahidi
California Watch
The Blaze
DNAinfo
West Seattle Blog
Examiner.com
Global Voices
Baristanet