Yes, apps and web have different features and user experiences. Yes, some people prefer one over the other. Yes, we love to talk about this fact endlessly. And yes, Flipboard is a mobile app, and Medium is a website – as PandoDaily pointed out last week:
So if you’re looking for a contest to watch as the “native vs Web” debate ramps up, keep your eyes on these two. Are you a Flipboard or a Medium?
Sure – keep your eye on them, but either’s success or failure is irrelevant to the question. There is no native apps v.s. web death cage match going on with Flipboard and Medium as combatants.
The two products may be chasing the same readers, but they are targeting very different authors, and that content strategy is what drives their platform choices.
A few of the content-specific differences:
Content largely generated by legacy media organizations
Content is available elsewhere on the open web
Discovery of content happens only within the app
Content created by individual contributors
Content is initially unique to Medium
Discovery of content occurs through multiple social and SEO channels.
Would Flipboard work on the web? It might. But only in direct competition with the websites of its legacy media partners. Being confined to an app and lacking social and SEO referrals is a feature not a bug.
Would Medium work as an app? It might. But without social or search engine discovery it would have a challenge attracting contributors and readers. The perceived usability advantage of apps would be useless.
For publishers, having platform choice is an opportunity to serve different audiences (and potentially different content) with different technologies, business models and user experiences. For many, deploying both platforms is the right answer.
But for now, if the web works better for your business, great. And vice versa. Each brings specific advantages and can fill different roles. Think of it as hiring the right platform for the right job. Bottom line: this is not a zero sum game and we don’t need to seek or declare a winner.
Could apps and web sites reach feature parity in a few years, and effectively end the debate? Sure, but until Apple can figure out how to make $5 billion per year on web apps — don’t hold your breath.
Both of those headline link-bait questions and more answered (or at least addressed) in a below roundup of somewhat recent academic research. I am not including links as most of these are behind paywalls. If you have access, the citation is below the publisher-provided abstract in each case:
Focusing on the Reader: Engagement Trumps Satisfaction.
Satisfaction is commonly monitored by news organizations because it is an antecedent to readership. In fact, countless studies have shown the satisfaction-readership relationship to be true. Still, an essential question remains: Is satisfaction the only, or even the critical, thing to focus on with readership? This research indicates that the answer is no. Two other related constructs, reader experiences and engagement, affect reader behavior even more than does satisfaction. The discussion provides examples of how to increase engagement and calls for experimental research to understand how news organizations can positively affect engagement and thereby readership.
Mersey, Rachel Davis, Malthouse, Edward C., & Calder, Bobby J. (2012). Focusing on the Reader: Engagement Trumps Satisfaction. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, 89(4), 695-709. doi: 10.1177/1077699012455391
Do Satisfied Customers Really Pay More? A Study of the Relationship Between Customer Satisfaction and Willingness to Pay
Two experimental studies (a lab experiment and a study involving a real usage experience over time) reveal the existence of a strong, positive impact of customer satisfaction on willingness to pay, and they provide support for a nonlinear, functional structure based on disappointment theory (i.e., an inverse S-shaped form). In addition, the second study examines dynamic aspects of the relationship and provides evidence for the stronger impact of cumulative satisfaction rather than of transaction-specific satisfaction on willingness to pay.
Homburg, Christian, Koschate, Nicole, & Hoyer, Wayne D. (2005). Do Satisfied Customers Really Pay More? A Study of the Relationship Between Customer Satisfaction and Willingness to Pay. Journal of Marketing, 69(2), 84-96.
News Audiences Revisited: Theorizing the Link Between Audience Motivations and News Consumption
With a plethora of news outlets today, audiences have more choices than ever. Yet, academic and professional understanding of news audiences from a uses and gratifications perspective remains limited. Using a national survey (N = 1143), this study uncovers distinct news consumption patterns across 4 types of motivations, and predicts media uses across 30 sources with noticeably higher explanatory power as compared to previous uses and gratifications studies, answering the question: Who is using what type of news, and why?
Lee, Angela M. (2013). News Audiences Revisited: Theorizing the Link Between Audience Motivations and News Consumption. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 57(3), 300-317. doi: 10.1080/08838151.2013.816712
News-seekers and Avoiders: Exploring Patterns of Total News Consumption Across Media and the Relationship to Civic Participation
This study examines patterns of news consumption across multiple media platforms and relates them to civic participation. Analyzing a national sample of close to 25,000 respondents, nearly half the adult population in America is classified as news ‘Avoiders,’ and the other half as ‘News-seekers.’ Testing the relationship between civic participation and news consumption for each of 6 media platforms individually, and to an overall index combining those sources into 1 measure, the results show a positive relationship with civic participation, but the influence of Total News Consumption on civic participation is greater for Avoiders than for News-seekers.
Ksiazek, Thomas B., Malthouse, Edward C., & Webster, James G. (2010). News-seekers and Avoiders: Exploring Patterns of Total News Consumption Across Media and the Relationship to Civic Participation. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 54(4), 551-568. doi: 10.1080/08838151.2010.519808
Young Adults’ Reasons Behind Avoidances of Daily Print Newspaper And Their Ideas For Change
Focus groups in three cities were conducted with young adults (ages 18-29) to understand why they, don’t read daily print newspapers. The study examined news media avoidances, like “inconvenience” and “lack of time,” to uncover underlying meanings. Results showed prominent nonuse reasons have dimensions. Participants also suggested ways newspapers could improve. Participants were studied as two age groups, 18-24 and 25-29. Small group differences did emerge. The older group wanted less negative news, while the younger group justified it; the younger age group was more skeptical of the news and mentioned needing greater effort to understand it.
Zerba, Amy. (2011). Young Adults’ Reasons Behind Avoidances of Daily Print Newspaper And Their Ideas For Change. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, 88(3), 597-614.
Exploring News Apps and Location-Based Services on the Smartphone
This study investigates how young adults use news and location-based services on their smartphones, in addition to examining how many news organizations offer mobile news apps with geo-location features. Based on the survey findings, young adults are consuming news on their smartphones. Furthermore, there is a high use of location-based services by smartphone consumers, but news organizations are only using geo-location features in their mobile apps for traffic and weather. This study highlights that a gap exists between what news consumers, particularly young adults, are doing and using on their smartphones and what news organizations are able to provide.
Weiss, Amy Schmitz. (2013). Exploring News Apps and Location-Based Services on the Smartphone. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, 90(3), 435-456. doi: 10.1177/1077699013493788
Mobile News Adoption among Young Adults: Examining the Roles of Perceptions, News Consumption, and Media Usage
Using the frameworks of innovation diffusion and technology acceptance model, this study examines the predictors of mobile news consumption among young adults. The results show that the perceived relative advantage (especially content), utility, and ease of use of mobile news are positively related to its adoption. The young adults’ news consumption patterns and preferences, as well as media usage, all play a role in the adoption of mobile news. This study also validates the importance of examining the adoption outcome from multiple perspectives.
Chan-Olmsted, Sylvia, Rim, Hyejoon, & Zerba, Amy. (2013). Mobile News Adoption among Young Adults: Examining the Roles of Perceptions, News Consumption, and Media Usage. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, 90(1), 126-147. doi: 10.1177/1077699012468742
Are News Media Substitutes? Gratifications, Contents, and Uses. Journal of Media Economics
Internet is generally expected to have one of two effects on traditional news media: It displaces them, or it forces them into distinct market niches. A shared assumption underlying both expectations is that news media displacement, or substitution, is a function of the degree to which news media are functional equivalents. This article explores this assumption from a niche theoretical perspective, using survey data from 2 student samples as illustrative cases. Findings indicate that, for these students, news media substitution does not depend on functional equivalence of media in providing gratifications and gratification opportunities or types of content. Post hoc analyses suggest instead that, for this particular audience, media use depends on habit and media accessibility. Follow-up studies should further investigate these relations for representative samples.
van der Wurff, Richard. (2011). Are News Media Substitutes? Gratifications, Contents, and Uses. Journal of Media Economics, 24(3), 139-157. doi: 10.1080/08997764.2011.601974
Only a handful of presentations at #ONA13 had ‘mobile’ in the title, but none of the many others I attended (or heard about) ignored the obvious: Mobile is now.
Sessions from tech trends, human design, breaking news, revenue models, sponsored content, product management, academic curriculums and the Latino boom talked about mobile in part or in whole. It’s fair to declare ONA13 officially mobile-friendly.
But a problem it turns out, is defining what mobile-first actually looks like. We talked a lot about the artifacts of a mobile-focused newsroom: titles, equipment, processes etc. But it is harder to describe the new mobile native reader experiences we have yet to invent.
As @jmm said in a Friday session, responsive web design is a publishing solution not a mobile strategy. It is still up to us to invent new ways to tell stories on these devices.
As more news sites move to responsive web design the need is an immediate one. A Thursday morning session highlighted the challenges for data visualization. For example, a map-based timeline may be a great on desktop, but merely shrinking it to smartphone size does not make it a mobile experience. Aside from the interface problems (fat finger vs tiny cursor) the screen size removes context and reduces informational value.
The Boston Globe’s leading RWD and mobile-friendly interactive graphics efforts were noted, but even the best industry-wide examples are desktop-centric. What is needed are entirely new story forms, or at least some that are completely reimagined for mobile.
Two examples in the direction we need to be headed:
The Boston Globe recently ran a feature rating local schools. In print the article ran with a list of the top schools geographically filtered for the Globe’s North, South and West regional editions. On Boston.com it ran as an interactive database of the results. On mobile, is the list or the database a better approach?
Given the screen size and the desire to create snackable information for mobile, a solution could be to offer a list but filter and sort it by GPS location. So readers in the South Shore would see the top ranked schools closest to them, much like in print. But the list would also simply be the default view for an interactive allowing in-depth browsing of the full data set.
The Direct Me Map
WNYC won an Online Journalism Award on Saturday night for their coverage of Hurricane Sandy. Among other things the digital team created a map of evacuation zones and evacuation centers which looked great and worked nicely on desktop and mobile. Media organizations create similar maps every day.
But citizens actually fleeing a natural disaster are unlikely to do so while browsing an interactive color-coded Google map. A better solution for smartphone users would be a turn-by-turn navigation tool. The phone knows where you are, would know your best evacuation route or shelter location, and could direct you to safety.
That is “news you can use.”
Neither of those ideas is particularly revolutionary or technically challenging – and each relies on the GPS chip alone. But, smartphones include a host of other sensors variously including those for motion, acceleration, orientation, sound, direction, light, proximity, humidity, temperature and barometric pressure. What new or mobile-enhanced story forms can we create using any or all of those? The potential is endless, but will require intense organizational focus to invent and implement. To be successful these story forms need to be integrated into our CMS’ not just regarded as one-off projects each time they are needed.
Being mobile first requires us to think about mobile as something different than just digital on a small screen. And it requires us to use all of the capabilities of smartphones to tell better stories and better serve readers. That is an organizational challenge as important as the original transition to the web.
If you have even a passing familiarity with Public Radio or podcasts these are probably all familiar titles.
This American Life has been my favorite podcast for years. But how does it inform product development? Easy one. The show features fantastic storytelling and journalism, and after more than 500 episodes has plenty to say about projects and innovation. A few of my favorites on failure and innovations are below. Also note, the episodes require payment to download to your phone but can be streamed for free. Another interesting example for product managers.
RadioLab is in its 11th season, and should be required listening for product managers. The show focuses heavily on science, psychology, cognition and related topics. Go listen to Games right now – especially the second segment The Rules Can Set You Free.
Freakonomics is the radio version of the twobooks. And as the name implies it takes a non-traditional approach to economics. From the deadweight loss of gift giving to the negative externalities of home burgular alarms – it is a great show to help you think a bit differently.
99 Percent Invisible I saved for last because it is so good. The show, all about The Designed World, has been around for about 3 years and is just short of 90 episodes to date. I have only listened to the first 50 – 60 so far, so may be missing some good more recent examples. Topics hopscotch from toothbrush design, the implementation of sociotechnical principles in hospital operations to the use of smart technology to improve downtown parking. The episodes are short, so download a dozen and start listening.
I ‘watched’ the Apple Keynote on Tuesday as per usual. And yes I plan to replace my 2-year old iPhone 4s. My immediate impression after the event: nice phone, fingerprint authentication is cool, 64-bit is great. But overall an iterative not innovative launch.
On Wednesday, I caught up on my reading. If you have not, check out these three stories:
TL;DR: Ad networks are playing with geo-fencing, but PayPal is looking to use a Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) device to actively recognize consumer location and facilitate deals and payments.
Apple is calling their version of a similar tech ‘iBeacon’ and looking to kill NFC before it gains any traction in the U.S. market.
And, a PayPal competitor in this niche took all of one day to announce their in-store device will be compatible with iOS7.
On Tuesday I commented to Josh Benton at Nieman Lab that the fingerprint scanner night be the biggest long-term feature on the new phone. It makes authentication and payment almost frictionless. But the real story is a lot bigger than that.
“In the near term, the M7 sensor (a new motion processing chip) essentially opens up opportunities for new fitness applications. M7 will help create a personal computing fabric that will reside on our person — be it wearables such as Nike Fuel band, a smart watch or whatever. Sensor data is a way for apps to get ‘senses.’ …The M7 sensor processor, Bluetooth LE support and iBeacon are part of the efforts Apple is making to push “low power everywhere.”
As per #3 utility, not content will be the primary use for these devices.
‘Utility’ is a much-abused term. But in other words, smartphones are quickly replacing or augmenting every task the average person performs in their daily public or private lives from dawn to dusk.
Call it the ‘life support’ strategy: Your phone can wake you up in the morning and warn you of too much CO2 in the house; Track your morning fitness routine and still get you to work on time; Get you deals at Target and check your credit card balance; Let you buy lunch and count the calories; Alert you to breaking news and route you around traffic on the way home; Set your home DVR to record ‘Breaking Bad’ or order and play Season One on Netflix.
Those categories look like:
Internet of Things
Media organizations are mostly focusing on #4, making content look good on a small screen. That consumer need is a key experience for journalists, but it ignores the powerful potential of the new news bundle.
The print newspaper has comics, classifieds, display ads, sports agate, events calendars, games, coupons and more. The typical news website has some of those features, the typical news app has – news.
This of course is where it gets tricky. How does a media company get involved in remote sensors, e-commerce or fitness apps in a way that serves the community and holds some promise of revenues?
But look at the facts. A majority of U.S. adults now own smartphones, and they will soon be using them for everything. Everything. Newspapers are good at one thing and unfortunately journalism needs some help to be self-sufficient.
We can keep working on the things we are good at, or we can learn to do new things that consumers want, and advertisers need. Those lessons probably involve hiring a native app developer and spending some money on research and development. Get used to it.