What Does ‘Mobile-First’ Mean to Publishers?

Earlier this week, USA Today unveiled a new mobile content platform for its NFL site “The Q.” Men’s lifestyle recommendation service Thrillist revamped its own app — and overall strategy — to focus more on mobile and less on email. Publishers increasingly toss out the phrase “mobile-first,” even though there is no consensus on how to define the term yet. The phrase has been used to refer to anything from responsive design, to bigger images, to less clutter, to short-form content. It can mean a focus on video or a focus on social. It means a lot of things to a lot of people.

Digiday spoke with several premium publishers about what mobile-first means to them. Edited and condensed excerpts:

Jon Steinberg, president, BuzzFeed
Mobile-first is not enough. Mobile should be all you care about.

Julie Hansen, president, Business Insider
It means mobile at the expense of other formats, so an experience that’s great on mobile but lousy elsewhere — or not as good elsewhere. We’re going to concentrate on nailing the cross-screen experience first, before we move onto mobile-first experiences.

Edward Roussel, head of consumer product, Dow Jones
Mobile-first is shorthand for saying that the dominant platform for digital media will soon be portable computers. These computers already come in many shapes and sizes: smart phones, tablets and — coming soon — a multitude of wearable computers such Google Glass or Samsung’s Gear watch. The mistake is to think such “mobile” devices will replace desktop or laptop computers. They will merely add to the number of devices we use. So the challenge is to be truly multi-platform.

Jay Lauf, publisher, Quartz
For Quartz, “mobile-first” is how we designed our interface. Clean and simple so our content shines on the devices closest at hand—smartphones and tablets. Since global business professionals are mobile, our decision to build a news site in responsive design and primarily for smartphones and tablets reflects our focus on the target audience and their habits.

Brian Fitzgerald, president, Evolve Media
It means approaching the type of content, its length, and more, with a focus on how and why users are consuming your content on mobile devices. It is thinking about site features and functionality that play to a mobile experience, like adding geolocation services, maps, et cetera.

David Payne, chief digital officer, Gannett
Being “mobile-first” means having a deep understanding of the absolutely tectonic shift that has happened as a result of arming millions of people with personal pocket computers that have become their go-to crutch whenever there are a few seconds to spare. Whether content-, commerce-, or game-based, the successful mobile product companies of the future will recognize the new behaviors and needs created by this phenomenon and transform their workflow and products to fulfill these needs.

Steve Hansen, CEO, Spin Media
Obviously consumption of content using mobile devices is exploding, particularly for the younger demographic. But publishers need to understand that great content needs to be device and platform agnostic. It’s more about the connection between a user and great content than the device. Establish a data-driven feedback loop focusing on content consumption patterns and use that data to inform the editorial and product as user behavior continues to evolve.

Thomas Plunkett, chief technology officer, Gawker
At the high level, mobile-first means build where users are and where technology is going. In practice, we build features mobile-first. We simplify the product. It forces us to think about what is essential; extend features to desktop. We have a ton of work to do on the mobile-optimized payload front, but it comes down to tailoring dependencies (images, javascript, css, etc.) for mobile. It means adaptive design. We’re staying away from mobile specific templates.

Mark Howard, chief revenue officer, Forbes
Mobile-first means developing for small screens before developing for desktop. It can be on a product, a feature or an entire experience.  It comes down to that strategy around how you want engage your audience on a small screen and having a plan for what you want the desired behavior to be and how that leads to an experience that your marketing partners will find valuable. Mobile is still the untapped frontier for many publishers, and even by introducing new user experiences, you aren’t guaranteed to deliver value for your marketing partners. They too need to be focused on how to deliver an optimized experience for the small screen.

Robyn Peterson, chief technology officer, Mashable
Mobile is not coming — it’s already here, and the media industry is scrambling but moving too slowly. Mobile-first is a reaction to this, but it’s not the right reaction. We need to build for all screen sizes. In design, there are no more “hero sizes.” We must design for a spectrum of resolutions and pixel densities. In engineering, we now need to understand the nuances of mobile and desktop browsers, which is complex. With that said, bringing a better experience to readers is the focus of a responsive and adaptive design, and once you’ve done the work and launched, you’ve opened the doors to something else: responsive and adaptive advertising. This brings valuable revenue, and more importantly, optimizes the reader experience even more.

Matt Turck, publisher, Slate
The mobile user comprises a third of our traffic. And while many readers use our apps, we’re also seeing huge growth among mobile users of the web browser. That’s why Slate is moving to more of a 24/7 publishing model for editorial and social outreach (so we can reach those night and weekend readers) and toward responsive design — our readers will have a true 360-degree user experience, with access to all our great content whenever and wherever they are. And, of course, allowing a multi-platform ad experience.

Vivian Schiller, chief digital officer, NBC News
Start with the mind.
Mobile. First. In all you do,
For work and play.
The heart will follow.

*this does not technically follow haiku rules.

Image via Flickr