Will Sullivan's guide to global mobile, tablet & emerging tech ideas

November 29, 2015
by Will Sullivan
1 Comment

Farewell to Zite, the news junkie’s greatest ally for custom curation.

Zite's old school logo, before the owl and teal.

Zite’s old school logo, before the owl and teal.

On Dec. 7th, Flipboard is shutting down Zite, once and for all.

While not as flashy or Oprah-endorsed as Flipboard or some of the other aggregation and curation apps, Zite did one thing better than anything I’ve ever experienced — it surfaced unique content that I was interested in that I hadn’t already found/read previously.

Especially as someone who used to be an incredibly unhealthy tech news addict back when I was really rocking out on this blog (I used to subscribe to more than a thousand RSS feeds and read almost all tweets marking them read in Tweetdeck after I finished a column), a service like Zite helped me find some of the best content that I would have missed through the firehose of all my streams and not make me feel like I was missing things by not personally scanning that insane amount of content. It honestly helped me rid myself of that news addiction (and focus on other things in life) because it’s feed was so effective. Zite was one of the few news aggregator efforts of the 2010’s that survived for several years.

It’s also been the secret killer app of many news nerds I tremendously respect like Damon, Yuri, Chloe, and many more.

It wasn’t not sexy or dominatingly visual, but it just worked. Exceptionally.

It was “just enough” design and an algorithm that delivered great personalized-interest content.

Flipboard set Dec. 7th as the final deadline for Zite users this month. I’m trying to migrate, but Flipboard’s interface just isn’t my thing. It feels too gimmicky and the dozens of swipes I have to do to scan more than 20 articles just doesn’t sit well with me. I’ve found myself in Feedly more frequently. We’ll see how they integrate Zite’s tech to more accurately surface news I’m interested in, and maybe I’ll dive in deeper.

It’s all about the curated news feed.

Founded by an NLP and algorithm genius, Mark Johnson, previously of Bing and SideStep, Zite was first bought by CNN for $20 million, who …I’m not sure what they really did with it. How do you change perfection? 😉 Then Flipboard bought Zite from CNN for $60 million and now they’re killing it (taking the tech and trying to migrate users over to Flipboard).

I first met Mark while organizing SND STL, which he spoke at about personalizing mobile news experiences in our mobile-focused track. He was incredibly sharp yet humble and quiet. He looked very Zuck-esque without the bro-iness.

He was a nerd’s nerd, who made a news nerd’s news app.

Thanks, Mark.

RIP, Zite.

August 29, 2015
by Will Sullivan
Comments Off on Trends on Tuesday: Web Standards Advocate Advises Adaptive Web Design for Government Sites

Trends on Tuesday: Web Standards Advocate Advises Adaptive Web Design for Government Sites

(This is another of my DigitalGov columns that I’m cross-posting here to keep an archive and share knowledge.) 

I like an escalator because an escalator can never break, it can only become stairs. — Mitch Hedberg

This August, Aaron Gustafson, Web Standards Advocate at Microsoft, industry thought leader and speaker, and an author who wrote a leading book on adaptive web design, spoke to the government tech community at the U.S. General Services Administration and provided many magnificent insights into mobile strategy, design and tech development for reaching the widest audience possible across devices.

Gustafson’s insights are especially important and impactful for government agencies because he focuses on the full-gamut of technologies audiences use—not just the latest mobile phones, OSes and apps—so his work and perspective can help inform government agencies on how to grapple with the technology needs of very diverse constituencies. I highly recommend you take the time to watch Gustafson’s “Beyond Responsive” presentation on Youtube or at least view the slides to learn more.

Here are a few notable takeaways:

  • The Web is everywhere and expanding to exponential platforms and viewports. From WAP-enabled mobile phones to embedded webviews in social media apps to computers to smartphones to connected cars—the Web goes to all these places through a single platform and code base, unlike mobile apps that have to be built and maintained specifically for each platform. (Slides 1-10)
  • Smartphones have reached 75% penetration in the U.S. but that’s concentrated in 61% of households. Half of people making less than $30,000 a year don’t have a smartphone and more than a quarter of those making $30,000-$75,000 don’t have smartphones. (Slide 14)
  • There’s a huge user base and opportunity in the number of Americans earning under $30,000—that group accounts for more people than the upper income groups combined and is also one of the predominantly mobile-only audiences, so giving them a good mobile experience on lower-end devices is crucial because they often don’t have alternatives. (Slide 18)
  • Just because your audience has a “smartphone” doesn’t mean the experience is super smooth. Lower-cost, lower-tech smartphones are used heavily by low-income individuals, and while they are still considered smartphones, they have less memory, storage, CPU and GPU power which can cause many issues for users. (Slides 19-22)
  • The majority of Internet-connected devices, after phones, are connected cars that have Web access. At the end of 2014, connected cars made up 62% of the non-phone subscriptions for AT&T. (Slide 23)
  • If you’re judging your audience by using something like Google Analytics only, you’re missing a segment of the users that have devices without Javascript support. Most analytics platforms require Javascript to track data, so we often don’t know who’s out there and what they’re using. (Slide 34)
  • The solution to reach these high-tech, low-tech, ghost users is building with adaptive web design (also called progressive enhancement) principles, technologies and content. This is illustrated nicely by Gustafson using Legos and summarized by a funny quote from Mitch Hedberg, “I like an escalator because an escalator can never break, it only becomes stairs.” (Slides 44-48)
  • Take a deep dive on how to actually execute excellent adaptive web designs. The remaining presentation provides dozens of real world visual, strategy and code examples on how to build with adaptive design to create a better user experience that works for all devices and platforms. (Slides 62 and beyond)

Definitely take the time to listen to Gustafson’s full presentation on YouTube and share it with your coworkers and bosses (to help get you buy-in for the future).

In a tech world where code choice sometimes becomes almost a religion, he’s one of the most reasonable, least dogmatic evangelists around, and government agencies should pay attention because he is focused on providing access to the Web to everyone, rather than just the elite with the latest devices.

Government agencies should support and follow Gustafson’s prescribed adaptive ideology to serve all of our constituencies bestfrom the users of low-tech, low-cost Trac Phones to the iPhone 6 Plus phablet user driving a Tesla with a 17-inch touch-enabled Web browser who also has a Web-enabled refrigerator at home.

August 29, 2015
by Will Sullivan
Comments Off on Trends on Tuesday: “Mobile Addict” users explode in growth, drive app usage

Trends on Tuesday: “Mobile Addict” users explode in growth, drive app usage

(This is another of my DigitalGov columns that I’m cross-posting here to keep an archive and share knowledge.) 

Mobile Addicts App Usage Over-Index chart from Flurry

Yahoo’s mobile analytics division, Flurry, released an interesting report, in July, comparing mobile usage among three distinct types of users around the worldbased on how frequently they launch mobile applications each day: Regular Users, Super Users and Mobile Addicts.

According to Flurry, of the 1.855 billion total mobile app users in the world:

  • 985 million people or 53% are Regular Users
  • 590 million people or 32% are Super Users
  • 280 million people or 15% are Mobile Addicts

Each of these categories grew at least 26%, or more, compared to 2014, with Mobile Addicts’ growth exploding to 59% in a year-over-year comparison.

Mobile Addiction Continues to Rise chart from Flurry

The report focused mostly on this quickly growing group—the Mobile Addicts—who use apps more than 60 times per day. The apps they most frequently use, by a wide margin, are Messaging/Social and Utilities/Productivity apps, followed by Games, Finance and News apps.

Simon Khalaf, SVP of Publisher Products, said in the piece, “Mobile Addicts use Messaging apps 6.56 times (an over-index of 556%) more than an average mobile consumer. This validates many of our analyses this year that messaging has become mobile’s killer application. Utilities and Productivity app usage was high as well, further validating our assumptions that Mobile Addicts are using their smart device as the sole computing device and conducting every aspect of their lives on that device.”

Government agencies building mobile apps should consider their users’ needs and if their application is truly something Mobile Addicts, Super Users or even Regular Users would use frequently, to justify the development and maintenance support expenses compared to a mobile-optimized website.

There are places in government where it makes sense to build apps, but as you can see from this data, much of the mobile app usage hype is driven by a small subset of addicted users, in only a few small genres of applications, like messaging, social and games, where government generally doesn’t work.