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.
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.
- 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.