HOME
          
LATEST STORY
Newsonomics: The Financial Times triples its profits and swaps champagne flutes for martini glasses
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.
Newsonomics: The Financial Times triples its profits and swaps champagne flutes for martini glasses
The FT is a leader in crossing over from print — digital subscribers now make up 70 percent of its paying audience, a number that keeps growing.
A farewell to #content: Optimism, worries, and a belief in great work
A few thoughts on the state of media (and meta-media) from our departing staff writer.
On convening a community: An excerpt from Jake Batsell’s new book on engaged journalism
“An engaged journalist’s role in the 21st century is not only to inform but to bring readers directly into the conversation.”
What to read next
789
tweets
Snapchat’s new Discover feature could be a significant moment in the evolution of mobile news
By putting mobile-native news adjacent to messages from friends, Snapchat could be helping create part of the low-friction news experience many want and need.
750Snapchat stories: Here’s how 6 news orgs are thinking about the chat app
From live events to behind-the-scenes tours, The Huffington Post, Fusion, Mashable, NPR, Philly.com, and The Verge tell us how they’re approaching Snapchat.
714Here’s how the BBC, disrupted by technology and new habits, is thinking about its future
The British broadcaster released a new report looking at the future of news as it looks toward its royal charter renewal in 2017.
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 ➚
Investigative News Network
Media Consortium
The New Republic
FactCheck.org
Semana
ABC News
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Ars Technica
Facebook
Upworthy
Reddit
PBS NewsHour