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5 Questions to Help You Choose the Right Mobile Website Tool

Submitted by Andromeda Yelton on June 6, 2012 - 8:50am

Editor's Note: This post is an excerpt from Library Technology Reports January 2012 (Vol 48, No. 1), "Bridging the Digital Divide with Mobile Services." A full excerpt of Chapter 2, including tools and resources alluded to, is on Scribd. Andromeda will present a WebJunction webinar based on the Report on July 25, 2012.

How can you choose among the many options for making your library's website mobile friendly? Researching for my Library Technology Report, I reviewed the features of various tools and read librarians' accounts of mobile technology initiatives (see the Resources section in Chapter 2). My analysis surfaced five questions that will help you clarify your priorities and guide tool selection.

1. Is the tool providing a mobile presentation of your existing site or helping you build a new site?

Each has advantages and disadvantages A mobile presentation can be incredibly easy to set up, and it instantly reflects whatever changes you make to your desktop version. However, you need software that works with your existing site. It's easy (and free) to set up a mobile presentation of a WordPress site, for example, but you're going to need something more specialized (and not free) to make your catalog and databases mobile-friendly. Mobile stylesheets are easy and free if you can use one of the ones referenced in the Resources section, but if you want something customized, you're going to have to spend a fair amount of time writing it and possibly rewriting your site's HTML to dovetail with it. Furthermore, mobile users often don't need all the features of your website, or even want to sort through them on a small screen; reskinning your site may not provide the best usability. And, of course—while having a mobile site is a gesture of friendliness and goodwill to many users—it doesn't particularly target diverse populations, unless you are mobile-izing a site already targeted at their needs.

Building a new site, by contrast, lets you consider user needs more carefully. Who's the target audience for your mobile site, and what needs do they express? What do your site analytics tell you about the devices people are using and the content they access through those devices? Offering a non-English version of a mobile site may be less onerous than translating your full site since purpose-built mobile sites typically offer only a fraction of the content. On the other hand, building a site can be time-consuming (if you want it to be more than a skeleton version of the desktop site) and is less likely to be free.

2. What's the budget?

Some of these tools are free, both to acquire and to run, though you may need to supply a bit of technical knowledge. Some are offered on a subscription basis, which includes hosting your site. This ranges from around $10 per month to several hundred (among those that advertise their rates), depending on your traffic and the complexity of your site. Be aware that in some cases the lower cost subscription tiers include ads.

3. How much control do you need over branding?

This includes the appearance of your site (e.g., color schemes, logos) as well as its domain name. Some services let you use your own domain name; some don't.

4. How much technical support do you need?

In my Report, I avoided listing tools that required too much specialized knowledge. Generally, the more tech support you need, the less likely free tools are to work for you. Do you have access to your webserver (and know how to install things to it), or do you have to go through someone for that? Can you write CSS or XML—or learn how?

5. How library-ish do you want the site to be?

If you want to display library-specific information resources such as the OPAC, databases, or LibGuides, you'll need to be talking to a library vendor, such as Boopsie or Library Anywhere (or your ILS, database, or LibGuides vendor). If you want to display more general types of information resources such as blog posts, photos, an events calendar, or social media, you have more options.