Why should the Federal Government Should Care About Web 2.0?

What is Web 2.0?

Web 2.0 is a trend in the use of World Wide Web technology and web design that aims to enhance creativity, information sharing, and, most notably, collaboration among users. The characteristics of a Web 2.0 site are rich user experience, user participation, dynamic content, metadata, web standards and scalability.

Web 2.0 is all about the following and more…

  • User Centric and User Oriented
  • Web Services, Web API’s
  • Widgets, Gadgets, Mashup’s
  • Blogs, Feeds, Wiki’s, Tagging, Podcasting
  • Social Networking
  • Rich Multimedia
  • Client rich technologies like CSS, HTML, DOM, XML, AJAX, JSON, XHTML, REST, SOAP

What can a Web 2.0 strategy do for a Government Agency?

Web 2.0 can…

  • Provide actionable strategies for implementing social networking for enterprise operations
  • Provide knowledge-sharing environments for diverse workgroups
  • Energize Communities of Practice
  • Streamline traditional communications and information sharing techniques
  • Enable new forms of social interaction at work through popular social computing sites
  • Meet the needs of the next-generation of government workers
  • Meet agency missions  through the tangible benefits of using Web 2.0 technologies

Frank Farris

Frank Farris is Founder and CEO of DeepBlue. He has been an active thought leader in the application of emerging web technologies since 1998 and is a champion of the movement to make the Responsive Web Design approach the new industry standard.

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Mobile-Friendly Website vs. Mobile Applications: No Monkeying Around

Although the two terms may intersect in many a new media dialogue they are as different as sharks and monkeys.

To paraphrase Socrates (poorly): I know that I know nothing. Yet, oddly, this makes me wiser than most. 

This statement is not made in some vain attempt to rectify the fact that the speed of technology moves faster than my feeble mind can possibly comprehend – rather, it is an acknowledgement that I am able to identify the 800-lb gorilla in the room when he is inspecting my head for fleas. We’ll call this great ape Steve Jobs.

The introduction of the iPhone, barely four years ago, changed everything. Not just in the way we communicate, how we navigate, how we interface, or how we accessorize, but in how we perceive the very nature of accessing information. The Web, as we know it, is dead. The ball-and-chain that we associate with the traditional PC/desk interface is becoming as antiquated a notion as television without DVR. Today, the Internet is mobile. It is truly free.

I am what you would call a serial early adopter. I was introduced to mobile browsing by my first “smart phone”, Motorola’s V200 Personal Communicator, which in 2002 was named Editor’s Choice by PC Magazine. Yes, it was a phone. Yes, it could send and receive text messages. Yes, it could handle email. And, YES, it could access the Net. My anticipation was that my long-sought dream of a mobile web would soon be realized. However, with its 2G speed, its tiny, monochrome, non-tactile display and text-only browser, the overall experience was less than nirvana. Today, my V200 sits in my drawer of misfit technologies, products that were perhaps a bit ahead of their time but failed to provide the killer app. My drawer is full of phones.

motorola device

Motorola described that its new technological marvel “combines advanced messaging and calling capabilities in a stylish, compact unit”

And then came Steve…

With today’s smartphones, including but not just limited to the iPhone, millions of us experience a rich user-interface and seamless access to the web and all its bounty – websites, movies, music, news, etc. Just take a look at some of the trending:

  • 63.2 million unique users in the US accessed news and information using a mobile device in January, 22.37 million did so on a daily basis.
  • Web access using mobile devices on a weekly basis grew 87% from 10.31 million to 19.28 million.
  • Monthly unique mobile web usage was up 71% from 36.87 million to 63.18 million since January of 2008.

But for many of us, the novelty of pulling up a website on a phone has worn off. For starters, smartphones don’t play Flash, making literally millions of websites absolutely useless for the mobile user. In addition, even websites that can be displayed properly on a mobile device lack a compelling mobile user experience as the size of the screen renders the content nay un-readable. Sure, the phones have their tricks – the double-tap was a great invention and a personal favorite of mine. However, the fact remains that these websites were designed for large monitors, using a keyboard and a mouse, and accessing them on a tiny device – no matter how high the resolution – leaves us frustrated and believing that there must be a better way.

Today’s modern web philosophy has seen the rise of alternative websites that are designed specifically for the dimensions and features of a mobile device. These “mobile-friendly” websites factor in size and usability to create page layouts that meet user’s needs quickly, show only essential information and make user input as simple as possible.

What is the difference between a Mobile-Friendly Website and a Mobile App?

I have experienced confusion of late with my customers in regards to the difference between a “mobile-friendly” website and a mobile app. Both are buzz words and both might seem to imply the same thing to the non-geek.

Allow me a moment to clarify their distinctions through rudimentary definitions:

Website

  • Website built for PC / Mac (enough said)

Mobile-Friendly Website

  • Website built specifically for mobile devices

Mobile App

  • Internet application that runs on smartphones and other mobile devices

Mobile Websites

When you’re building a website for viewing on a mobile device, you have to forget just about everything you know about traditional website development.

  • On a mobile device, screens are small. Because of that, you don’t want to display global navigation on every page as you would on a traditional site. For mobile devices, keep navigation links to a minimum.
  • Keep content to a minimum. Communicate only the most essential information.
  • Mobile device users are mainly interested in doing something. Strip away content that are research oriented, such as “About” and “Company History” pages.
  • Make sure every page has a “Back” button at the bottom, since mobile browsers typically don’t display one.
  • Don’t try to replicate the complicated design aesthetics of the main website – start from scratch and keep design to an artistic minimum.

Mobile Apps

Mobile apps aren’t websites at all – they are programs, human.

  • Apps are mobile software developed by using different platforms and programming languages based on the target mobile device.
  • Today, there are countless hundreds of thousands of mobile apps. Apple categorizes its Web apps as follows: Calculate, Entertainment, Games, News, Productivity, Search Tools, Social Networking, Sports, Travel, Utilities, Weather.
  • Usually task-specific – simpler, seeker services in favor of open, unfettered web
  • Less about the searching and more about the getting
  • True ‘Native’ apps do not require Internet access.
  • Content already downloaded to a smartphone can be instantly accessed. No waiting for web pages to download.
  • Can take advantage of a smartphone’s inherent technologies (eg, GPS, voice-recognition, touch screen, gyroscopes)
  • Create an omnipresent brand placement on a user’s smartphone desktop. Prime real estate.

When an organization is planning its Internet Marketing Strategy (IMS), it should strongly consider developing for all three platforms (website, mobile-friendly website, mobile app) so as not to neglect its current and/or potential users, regardless of where they are coming from. Although a mobile-friendly website and a mobile app may have features that are redundant, it is important to consider the differences we outlined above and determine how each can provide a unique and specialized user experience. For example, a college app might include a campus map, or a fast food franchise might include a location finder that locates the nearest chain via the smartphone’s GPS capabilities. Both of these features can be replicated on either a standard website or a mobile-friendly website; however, the benefits of these applications running on a native platform – not from an HTML web page running on a remote server – are significant in terms of time and ease of use. Think of the difference between watching a movie on DVD and streaming it online. Plus, having your app residing on the desktop of your user’s cell phone provides a one touch convenience that will ensure a satisfactory experience and encourage multiple uses – perfect for that moment when the mood strikes for a triple-decker caribou slider.  Proactive marketers can push the envelope even further by ‘pushing’ a message about that slider out to a user when he or she is in a geographically close proximity, thus actually creating the mood. This is something that only an app can do.

One potential down-side of mobile apps is Interoperability – the ability of software to function on multiple platforms – versus User Experience – the optimization of software to function at its highest degree on a specialized platform. Take an iPhone app for example. It must be programmed in the iPhone’s native platform, Objective C. Unlike a mobile-friendly website that will work on any smartphone, a native app built for an iPhone will not work on any other phone, thus eliminating about 70% of current smart devices. In order to cover the breadth of the smartphone market, therefore, one must build individual apps for the iPhone, Android phones, Blackberry, Windows Mobile, and Palm platforms. This can be time-consuming and expensive.

smartphone marketshare diagram

smartphone marketshare diagram

While the Android OS has overtaken Apple (iOS) in market share the two combine for almost 80% of the total market.

However, given the dominance of the iPhone and Android phones, an organization can cover roughly 80% of the smartphone market simply by building on these two platforms. An emerging option for complete Interoperability is to develop what has been coined HTML5 Apps, which have one single core application, are written with web standards, primarily HTML, CSS, and JavaScript and are deployed on more than one mobile platform. More on that later.

Regardless of whether you are an iPhone, Android or Blackberry user, these issues should be given strong consideration. Do the research and see what types of devices your customers are using. For example, if they are government employees, they most assuredly will have a Blackberry. Technical people may favor the Android platform due to its open source while creative people tend to fall in with the Apple-lovers crowd.

So, which platform is right for you? In addition to your website –  and its not inconsequential costs – do you need to invest in both (mobile web and mobile app) or should you hold back? Our belief is absolute that, regardless of whether or not you have a mobile-friendly website and/or a mobile app, you must have a mobile PRESENCE going forward. Not later. Not next year. NOW. Because, just today, consider that about 20% of people visiting your website are doing so from their cell phone, and that number is growing exponentially. And if your organization invests the time and research to learn about the inherent qualities of each emerging platform and how they can better serve your existing and potential users, you will find yourself at the cutting edge and in a competitive advantage over those that are trying to eat you.

Thanks, Steve. Have a banana.

Frank Farris

Frank Farris is Founder and CEO of DeepBlue. He has been an active thought leader in the application of emerging web technologies since 1998 and is a champion of the movement to make the Responsive Web Design approach the new industry standard.

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PC Sales Declining: Do We Care?

A new report predicts worldwide sales of personal computers are bound for their first annual decline in 11 years. The forecast issued Wednesday by the research firm IHS iSuppli projects that nearly 349 million PCs will be shipped this year. That would be a 1 percent decrease from nearly 353 million PC shipments last year. Although small, the anticipated decline would be the first time that annual PC sales haven’t grown since 2001.

For most of us, this news comes as no surprise. With the historic proliferation of mobile devices hitting the market in recent years, industry followers have seen the writing on the wall for some time now. Mobile devices, such as smartphone and tablets, are cheaper, portable and can do many of the same things we do on our desktop devices. While there will always be the need for powerful computers to manage the heavy lifting of today’s modern world, the average user simply does not require such processing capability. Most of the folks at DeepBlue have tablets, specifically the iPad. Some here have gone so far as to use their iPad as a PC replacement, although I still depend mightily on my MacBook Air. Still, the concept of a post-PC world is intriguing. What if, instead of allocating responsibilities to my laptop, iPad and iPhone I have a single device that sufficiently services all my needs, wrapped up into a neat, mobile package? The possibilities of a post-PC world are staggering – cheaper, more accessible and better connected products that find their way into the woodwork of ambiguity, making every aspect of our life connected 24/7/365.

The death of the big box era in computing is inevitable. It will be very interesting to see what follows and how we as humans adapt.

Frank Farris

Frank Farris is Founder and CEO of DeepBlue. He has been an active thought leader in the application of emerging web technologies since 1998 and is a champion of the movement to make the Responsive Web Design approach the new industry standard.

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Responsive vs. Adaptive Design: Which Approach is Best?

Those of us in the web industry have become familiar in 2012 with a new approach to website development. Responsive Web Design, or RWD for short. The promise of RWD is that it allows developers like DeepBlue to create a website from a single-data source and adjust its layout accordingly to provide an optimal viewing experience – easy reading and navigation with a minimum of resizing, panning, and scrolling – across a wide range of devices (from desktop computer monitors to tablets to mobile phones). RWD provides an elegant solution for a complex problem – how to develop a single website that satisfies today’s multi-platform consumer. RWD is not a new technology; rather, it is a new way of thinking about the web. Although a website built using a responsive approach is self-evident when pointed out, we have found that the term creates much confusion with customers, hence the purpose of this article. To try to clarify, we will define the two main design approaches to modern website development – Responsive Design and Adaptive Design – and allow the reader to decide for themselves which approach is right for them.

Let’s begin with the basics:

Responsive Web DesignMultiple Fluid Grids

Adaptive Web DesignMultiple Fixed With Layouts

Confused? I don’t blame you.

RWD uses something with the obscure concept of fluid-based proportion grids. Instead of designing a layout based on rigid pixels or arbitrary percentage values, a fluid grid is more carefully designed in terms of proportions. This way, when a layout is squeezed onto a tiny mobile device or stretched across a huge screen, all of the elements in the layout will resize their widths in relation to one another. In addition RWD uses flexible images, and media queries, and when all three components are combined we create a quality experience for users no matter how large (or small) their display.

Make sense?

Let me try to put this in simpler terms: RWD websites are like silly putty, they have the ability to bend and curb, essentially morphing themselves into the proper dimensions for any web experience, including desktop, tablets and smartphones. For those of you who remember the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta – think Whatizit, just without all the horrible embarrassment it befell onto our fair city.

Olympics Logo

Got it? Good. Let’s move on.

Adaptive Web Design (AWD), on the other hand uses a fixed width layout in designing and developing a website. Instead of a responsive site that will adjust itself accordingly, the AWD approach is to create multiple versions of a website based upon its anticipated use. We used this approach for the Tennessee Aquarium website several years back. At that time, the iPhone had just made its glorious appearance onto the scene and users were excited about the ability to visit actual websites on their phone. Granted, of course, that the experience was not always optimal – I will not even mention Flash – we loved the fact that the geniuses at Apple were thoughtful enough to create an intuitive, gesture-based interface which allowed us to zoom in and out, making it possible to read content that was designed for a larger screen on our tiny 3.5 inch phone. For the time being, it was good enough. Soon, however, customers started complaining to us that their customers were complaining to them that their website was not very useful on their smaller devices. They asked us if we could create an alternative version of their website, designed specifically for small screens, squinty eyes and fat fingers. Witness the birth of the mobile-friendly website experience – a scaled back, dumbed down, easier to use version of what has become affectionately known across small screens everywhere as the ‘full site’. Even though the creation of a mobile version required additional cost, design, development and the creation of a sub-folder inside the CMS (thus duplicating content entry efforts), our customers were once again happy because, indeed, their customers were also happy.

Between the years 2006-2010, the Adaptive Web approach dominated mobile strategies. Essentially, we developed two websites – one for the desktop experience and one for the smartphone experience. Then, wouldn’t you know it, those geniuses at Apple introduced yet another disruptive product. The iPad. What exactly was the iPad? At the time, we were not quite sure. It wasn’t a laptop, yet it wasn’t a phone either. It was a brand new category. Inevitably, our customers started calling us asking about how we can help them optimize their tablet experience. Although the average website will default to its desktop version on a tablet, the content was not always an ideal fit, especially in portrait mode. Should we really build a third website that was optimized for tablets? Will customers actually pay for three websites? Things started to get a little murky, and that’s when we started hearing about yet another rumored device that would strike fear in the heart of designers – the iPad Mini!! Chaos ensued.

It all started to change with Responsive Web Design, an article by Ethan Marcotte on A List Apart. Essentially, the article proposed addressing the ever-changing landscape of devices, browsers, screen sizes and orientations using what you are now familiar with (thanks to this article) as the Responsive Design approach. RWD is still in it’s infancy and best-practices are being established as I write this article. It is by no means flawless – the concept of pixel-perfect has been thrown out the window along with Flash architecture. But it does represent the single greatest hope for a portable web that works the way we expect it to.

Earlier in this article, I offered to clarify the differences between RWD and AWD and allow you, the reader, to decide for yourself which approach is best for you and your organization. I realize that my intentions for objectivity may have been slightly influenced by my obvious subjectivity and preference for RWD. Still, I leave the ultimate conclusion to be made by you. If you were undertaking a new website, which approach would you choose?

RWD Rules!

Frank Farris

Frank Farris is Founder and CEO of DeepBlue. He has been an active thought leader in the application of emerging web technologies since 1998 and is a champion of the movement to make the Responsive Web Design approach the new industry standard.

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