HOME
          
LATEST STORY
Complicating the network: The year in social media research
ABOUT                    SUBSCRIBE
May 8, 2013, 12:46 p.m.

NPR launches a new mobile site, bets on the scroll, and gets closer to being fully responsive

There are lots of good ideas in NPR’s new mobile redesign, which responds to the mainstreaming of mobile devices as a way of getting news.

npr-mobile-site-screenshotIt must be mobile-news-site launch season. Last week it was The New York Times debuting a sleeker presence in smartphone browsers; today it’s NPR’s turn. It’s nice! (If maybe a touch on the staid side — it’s more Carl Kasell at the top of the hour than Carl Kasell reciting limericks.)

You can see the new look here and read about its features here. Three quick thoughts:

The rise of the scroll

Compare the new site to its predecessor and one thing becomes clear: Everyone’s becoming more comfortable with scrolling. The old mobile site only took up about two screenfuls on an iPhone; the new one, on first load, takes up 14. (That screenshot on the right is only about one quarter of the full mobile homepage.) And if that’s not enough, you can keep loading more stories in an infinite scroll.

It wasn’t that long ago that news companies were hesitant to put significant content “below the fold” — the old newspaper metaphor moved from newsprint to screenfuls. The BuzzFeeds and Snow Falls of the world have taught publishers to think of scrolling less as a hindrance and more as a useful, tactile part of the content consumption experience.

For a long time, mobile content experiences were built around the idea of restraint — slow bandwidth and less powerful processors, yes, but mostly the constraint of user time. “Mobile” became shorthand for “30 seconds of attention while you’re waiting in line somewhere.”

But as devices and networks improve — and, more importantly, mobile moves from being an edge case to just how people get the Internet — publishers are getting more comfortable with offering a less abbreviated experience on phones. We’re getting closer to content parity. NPR’s intro blog post also notes:

Visitors entering our site through the mobile homepage will now have access to story comments, advanced searching and extended NPR listening opportunities, such as NPR Music’s First Listen series.

That makes sense — the more people use smartphones as their primary Internet device, the more they’re going to want to do things like leave comments — things that might have previously been considered something they’d go their laptop to do.

The move to responsive

Despite the web design world’s headlong push into responsive design, NPR (like the Times) isn’t quite there yet. Like the Times’ new mobile site, the NPR site’s homepage does adjust based on device width, but only from tablet to smartphone sizes — the desktop site is still separate. (Play with the width slider here to see how it reflows at lower device sizes.)

However, unlike the Times, NPR’s article pages — where the vast majority of its traffic lies, one assumes — are fully responsive. (Again, check it out. iPads get the smallest version of the desktop layout; anything smaller gets the smartphone view. Reduce the pixel width from 768 to 767 to see what I mean.) The Times still uses separate m.nyt.com URLs on mobile stories.

The URL of the mobile homepage doesn’t sell it’s mobile-ness: Rather than npr.org/mobile or mobile.npr.org, it’s npr.org/home. That interesting (lack of) distinction is explained by this note in the intro post:

What’s next: This new homepage for phone-size screens is the first step in creating a fully responsive NPR front page that will work for people using a wide range of devices, from phones to tablets to desktops. Stay tuned.

That makes sense — the desktop NPR homepage is one the last relics of the old look; the mobile homepage looks much more like the recently redesigned article pages than the desktop does. Here’s NPR Digital senior project manager Patrick Cooper:

Homepages, with their myriad modules and ad units, are a much harder job, responsively speaking, than article pages, which usually can be reflowed into a smooth column of text without too much difficulty.

The question of ads

One thing I didn’t see anywhere in the new mobile site: ads. (Maybe they’re there somewhere, but I didn’t see any on the couple dozen pages I checked out.) Ads appear on responsive pages only when they’re on screens 1000px wide or wider — below that size, they disappear. (See what I mean here by dropping the width slider.) Ads in responsive design are problematic, just as ads on mobile devices in general are problematic. But it’s an issue that NPR — like other news organizations — will have to figure out if they want to benefit from the (massive, irrevocable) shift to mobile devices.

Who did all this work? Some credits in this tweet:

POSTED     May 8, 2013, 12:46 p.m.
SHARE THIS STORY
   
Show comments  
Show tags
 
Join the 15,000 who get the freshest future-of-journalism news in our daily email.
Complicating the network: The year in social media research
Journalist’s Resource sifts through the academic journals so you don’t have to. Here are 12 of the studies about social and digital media they found most interesting in 2014.
News in a remix-focused culture
“We have to stop thinking about how to leverage whatever hot social platform is making headlines and instead spend time understanding how communication is changing.”
Los Angeles is the content future
“Creative content people are frustrated with the industry and creating their content on their own terms. Sound familiar?”
What to read next
587
tweets
Complicating the network: The year in social media research
Journalist’s Resource sifts through the academic journals so you don’t have to. Here are 12 of the studies about social and digital media they found most interesting in 2014.
339Finance media’s hottest club is Ello
Business reporters flocking to the platform won’t radically change journalism, but it’s worth asking why users gather where they do.
305Why Google is taking another shot at helping readers pay for news
Google Contributor is the latest tool the company has designed to help readers pay for what they read online. But its previous experiments in supporting paid content have had limited success.
These stories are our most popular on Twitter over the past 30 days.
See all our most recent pieces ➚
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 ➚
Vox Media
Talking Points Memo
AOL
Semana
Hearst
NBCNews.com
MediaBugs
Minneapolis Star Tribune
The Huffington Post
Patch
CNN
Foreign Policy