Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A little bit about writing very little

I've been so busy lately that this blog has gone without an update for weeks at a time.
I apologize to anyone who is still taking the time to check this site or their RSS reader for something new from me.
Today is no different. I'm swamped...working far from home at a client's office, living in a hotel and missing my family.
But earlier today someone asked my thoughts for an article about creating content for mobile devices. I responded via email. And it occurred to me that this was an opportunity to do two things.

1. Suggest that people check out the most interesting new site in the media world -- eMedia Vitals. You can start by reading the article in which I'm quoted. (Disclosure: Whenever I read eMedia Vitals it feels like some sort of spin-off from "The Paul Conley Show." Nearly everyone at the company is someone that has worked for me or with me at some point in my career. The rest are people I've either written about and/or tried to recruit for clients. So I'm probably a little prejudiced. But I think this is a strong staff. And the site is extraordinarily good -- offering the sort of actionable material that is missing in other brands that cover the media world.)

2. By copying and pasting that aforementioned email into Blogger, I may actually be able to reduce some of the guilt I feel about not updating this blog ... but without actually taking the time to do a real update (eMedia Vitals only published a tiny portion of what I wrote, anyway. And I hate to see it go to waste.)

And so, without further ado, here are some thoughts on publishing content to mobile devices:

Whenever you're creating content for mobile, it pays to remember two distinct and remarkable things about that platform versus any other.

First, your mobile device knows who you are and where you are.
Mobile devices offer the first opportunity in history to create content that is aimed at individual users. With mobile, you're not publishing restaurant reviews for your community -- you're giving the guy at the corner of Main and State three options for health food within a six-block radius. You're not giving the executive at the airport an interface where he can check his flight, you're sending him a text message when the airline changes his gate.
Some of the smartest applications involve the use of 2D barcodes. In parts of Asia, people are using those things to track bus schedules, download videos, etc. Users see something they want on a billboard or in a print publication, and they snap a photo of it with their mobile device. Think about the power of that. I'm not selling an ad for a soft drink to reach a million people. I'm showing an ad to a guy who has expressed an interest in my soft drink, has 12 minutes to kill until his bus arrives and happens to be standing outside a particular store.

Second, mobile devices are sort of crappy ways to consume information.
They're convenient. We need them to function in the modern world . But they are an inferior method of consuming almost any type of content (the one exception is audio.).
The text is too small -- especially for older people. The video screens are too small -- for everyone. You can't multitask with them (I can watch TV and cook. I can't look at my iPhone and do that.)
Content creators need to accept this about mobile: as convenient as the devices are to carry, they are an inconvenient way to consume information.
So don't waste anyone's time.
Keep your copy short -- about the length of an email.
Don't make it harder than it has to be -- give me text-only RSS feeds that I can read or take the time to build an application for my iPhone. Don't ask me to look at your Web site on a device that fits in my pocket. Even the best mobile browser can't turn your Web site into anything I want to read on a phone.
If you can tell me what I need to know in less than 200 words, do so. If not, try harder.
On the other hand, if I'm sitting around staring at my mobile device it's probably because I don't have anything better to do at the moment. I'm stuck at the train station or sitting at the coffee shop or waiting for an elevator. In moments like that, I want to see something I "need" -- crucial, timely information. Or maybe I just want to see something that's funny.
Either way, you have about 2 seconds to catch my attention before I look at something else. So try to be witty or beautiful, albeit brief. And if you can't do that, just be brief.

4 comments:

  1. Wow u never cease to amaze me Paul
    Jay B

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  2. These are great insights Paul. I feel strongly about leveraging the strengths of the medium rather than trying to keep doing the same thing through inertia. BTW, posting this on the train from my iPhone, which never leaves my side.

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  3. Hey don't worry about the lack of posts -- you were just reinforcing a point you always make: print people can't adapt to online. So tell me again why anyone would take your advice on modern publishing?

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  4. Anonymous,
    I suppose there are several reasons why someone might wish to take my advice on modern publishing.
    At the top of that list is that I'm not the sort of person who is afraid to sign his name to what he writes.

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