Beware shortcuts when mobilizing existing web sites

Have you tried accessing a web site from your mobile device and felt disappointed? I get that feeling often and wonder what it takes for site owners to think of "mobile first"?

One of the fastest ways to mobilize your existing websites is to license special mobile middleware tools.  These tools access source content on your existing site but then apply a mobile-friendly layout to it. Key players include Dudamobile (also offered by Google via its GoMo initiative), dotMobi (offered by many hosting providers like GoDaddy) and many others of various types including open source libraries.

Most such "mobilize-an-existing-site" approaches work in a similar way. They act as a proxy between the visitor and your site and then perform what was classically called screen-scraping or web-clipping. Once they scrape content, they can then re-purpose and serve it to mobile devices.

Besides being a quick approach, proponents argue that you can reuse your existing site without making any major changes and thus save money, time, and hassle. I don't disagree with that conclusion, but I see this only as a short-term stopgap that you should consider while you evaluate a long-term approach.

The reason is, there are several problems with this quick-fix approach:

  1. You've added an additional layer between your visitor and content. This obviously has performance implications because typically, screen-scraping happens on the fly. Sure, you can optimize and cache some of it, but you still have an additional layer to worry about.
  2. This one proxy can become a single point of failure that's probably outside of your control, despite your other investments in rendundancy and reliability that you or your hosting partner have made. 
  3. There are many problems with screen scraping itself. The quality of results will depend on the nature of the JavaScript, AJAX, CSS, and Forms code you've applied.  Your mileage will vary.

Besides these technical issues, my bigger problem is that this approach considers mobile as an "add-on" and not necessarily a channel becoming as important or more so than desktop access.

My recommendation to to our subscribers who are evaluating how to mobilize their web presence is to certainly consider this approach -- but only as a quick-and-dirty solution. If required, you should go back to the basics and evolve a strategy that treats mobile users with respect they deserve. This will inevitably require taking a hard look at your content strategy and your CMS technology. In fact, our recently released version 21 of Web Content and Experience Management (WCXM) Evaluation Stream specifically covers mobile capabilities of all the tools covered in that stream.

If you are an RSG subscriber looking for more personalized guidance, you can place an advisory session request here.


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Gil, Partner, Cancentric Solutions Inc.
iStudio Canada Inc.

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