After much behind-the-scenes work, we finally just announced the launch of the SUNY Oswego mobile site. Our traffic via mobile device has climbed from 1.5 percent in October 2010 to 4 percent in October 2011, so clearly we’re seeing increased demand for something optimized for mobile. Thanks in large part to tips from other colleges and conference presentations — and especially the skilled hands of our talented developer Rick Buck plus some trial and error — this lengthy and not-so-simple process taught us many lessons along the way.
It’s about content. I was pleased that presentations on mobile development at HighEdWeb11 emphasized thinking about content before the technology. Sessions like “On Your Mark, Get Set, Mobile!” from William & Mary and mStoner and the University of Central Florida’s “A Utility Belt Approach to Mobilizing Content” focused on existing content you can mobilize and optimize for your mobile platform. Knowing the content and building around it is made easier when you can employ a good framework and template like WVU’s Dave Olsen assembled through Mobile Web OSP. (Dave’s name always comes up when presenters mention mobile and higher ed, and we are among the many who owe him a debt of gratitude.)
It’s about users. We needed to think about how our users might interact with location-based content as well as the things they access the most on our website. As such, the mobile map was a given. The interactive directory that allows users to email or call a professor or staff member with a single click provides real convenience that takes use-care scenarios into consideration. News, an events calendar and emergency information provide timely and relevant information at (literally) the touch of a button.
Testing, testing. We did a soft rollout for New Student Orientation this summer, with an emphasis on the orientation schedule and locations. It went well and also taught us about user behavior at a (relatively) slow time before we did the main rollout. We’ve done spot testing from time to time, a practice we expect to continue.
Think mobile before apps. While all kinds of characters roam the fringes of academia trying to sell apps, anyone of any expertise emphasized how important it is to develop a mobile site first. The advantages are many — it works on all platforms and one need not negotiate with an Apple or Droid store, and wait for the process to play out for months so your users can access updates. This Cappex survey of parents of prospective students adds more support, as 79 percent of respondents preferred a mobile-friendly site to an app. While apps developers emphasize shiny objects and one-trick ponies, the mobile site is the big tent where you welcome all your users.
It’s a continuing process. We look at launching the mobile website as a beginning, not an ending. We’ve already made tweaks and upgrades in its first “official” week, and we have many other features in the pipeline. And of course we’ll keep an eye on analytics both for mobile and the regular sites to see what’s working/not working and what other features become relevant.