Mobilising The Library Website

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A few weeks ago a discussion was going on via Twitter about the possibility of creating an iphone app for library websites using Bloapp. The benefits of using this service were that it was quick and easy and provided another way to offer a service to library users. Put simply, Bloapp takes an RSS feed for your site and makes it available as an app within the Bloapp service. (More details from Ned Potter here). After having a look at it, I didn’t feel it offered enough functionality for a mobile app/site. Most blogs automatically display pretty well on modern internet enabled phones without the need to set up an extra service like this.

However, it did get me thinking about what a mobile enabled library site for my library service, Surrey County Council Libraries, might contain and how I might want to achieve that. So I came up with my own criteria for a prototype site, taking on board some of Ned’s points.

  • Quick to set up (max 1 hour).
  • Easy to set up.
  • Free to set up.
  • Accessible to as many mobile internet users as possible.
  • Ability to display RSS feeds (eg Library news; Library Twitter).
  • Ability to display static web page information (eg Library location; services).
  • Capability of searching the library catalogue.
  • Capability of creating a mobile site with a reasonable number of web pages.
  • QR code access.
SCC Lib Test site QR Code

With this in mind, I went looking for sites that either allowed you to convert your website into a mobile site, or allowed you to create one. I didn’t think an app was the best way to go, as this automatically limits it to the type of phone that can access the website.

I found 16 sites that looked promising at first, but none of them gave me anything vaguely near what I wanted to create, quickly and easily. A handful (including Winksite; Mobisitegalore;  Onbile; Mippin) allowed me to create sites that had some of the features I needed, but none gave me the full package.

However, I also decided to see how easy it would be to use Weebly, a free website creator service, which isn’t a dedicated mobile site creator, but might do the job just as well.

Well, it did the job much better than any of the other services available and within an hour I’d built from scratch a mobile site prototype that included all the functionality I wanted.

It had:

  • Embedded RSS Twitter and news feeds
  • A range of pages about services provided by Surrey Libraries, including the stub of a page indicating where libraries are located (information cut, pasted and tailored from the main library website)
  • A way to search the catalogue (Weebly allows HTML code to be pasted easily into the site)
  • QR code access
  • It displays reasonably on a range of phones

It isn’t perfect (it is a prototype after all) and some of the links go to the main library site, but given another couple of hours it could be tidied up, so that it was a more or less self-contained mobile site. I know this means it would take longer than setting up the Bloapp site, but in terms of the extras library users could get from this, I think it’s worth spending a little extra time.

The main problem I have is the catalogue search going to the main site once the search has been run, but in a way I have overcome the biggest problem with searching the catalogue, which was the lack of clarity/cleanness of the initial catalogue search function when displayed on some mobile phones. Once I get to the search results my initial frustration has been overcome, so I suppose I have achieved what I want, but it isn’t perfect.

The site can be found at http://scclibtest.weebly.com/index.html .

I’d be interested to know what people think about it and if it displays okay on your phone too.

Thanks.

Mobile Browser Site Design

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Having been woken by the neighbours with a bit of crashing and banging at regular intervals, I am now wide awake (1:30am) and have been flicking through the web on my Palm Treo phone. It still surprises me that there are sites that don’t provide decent access via a mobile browser. You can still just about read the information on these mobile incompatible sites if you like scrolling in all directions, you want your text columns to be 1 inch wide, you enjoy wading through the extra bits that make a full size sites snazzy but a mobile site difficult to use and you’re prepared to wait a couple of minutes before the site loads up.

As mobile site access is such a big thing now, major sites should be able to either pick up that I’m using a smart phone to access them and either change the layout accordingly, or divert me to the mobile version of the site. Some sites even seem to go so far as to hide the fact that they have a mobile version of their site, providing no information about the url, despite the fact that you’ll eventually stumble across it by sheer luck.

In some cases I prefer using the mobile site, rather than the full site. Most of the time this is because the clutter is removed and the functions are stripped back to the most useful things.

I do sometimes use sites like Skweezer to view normal sites in my mobile browser. Skweezer strips out the extra bits and bobs and presents you with the web site in a less cluttered way. All you have to do is type in the site url or keywords into Skweezer’s search box and it converts the sites successfully most of the time. When it fails, it is generally due to the over-crowded page it is trying to convert and again you get a load of extra information you don’t want.

I’ve got access to most types of sites that I need on my browser on a regular basis in a decent readable form, without using something like Skweezer. However, in some cases I’m using a site in preference to the one I’d rather use, just because the one I’d rather use doesn’t have a mobile version of their site.

If a company hasn’t got their site set up for mobile browser access they will be, and are, losing out to another site. As mobile browser access expands, that other site will slowly take away web traffic, because I’m sure that if I’m going to another site for my information, I won’t be the only person doing it.