by Tom Davis

How to de-enhance mobile visitor engagement experiences.

Or: How to enrage your mobile audience.

First I have to admit that I like to read Deadline Hollywood. This sounds shallow and silly, but the site is not a celebrity gossip site. It is a good look at the inner workings (sort of) of Hollywood and that intrigues me for some reason. But enough explanation as to why I am visiting the site. I typically browse Deadline Hollywood on my iPad. I tend to "consume" content on my iPad because it is more convenient than my rather large laptop. The nice thing about the iPad is that when you hold it oriented in landscape (sideways) the screen is large enough to view any website. In landscape the nominal width of the iPad is 1024 pixels — most websites are less than 1000 pixels wide.

Deadline Hollywood mobile site on an iPadSo the other day I arrive at Deadline Hollywood and find myself redirected to their "mobile" site. I have been reading  Deadline for a year or so with no trouble using my iPad, but now the Deadline people feel I should be looking at their "mobile" site. The image to the right is what I saw.

There are a couple of things wrong here. First, they just plainly got my device wrong. Your browser sends information about itself to the webserver, and the webserver can examine this information. I looked at their Javascript to see what they were looking for and apparently one of the words they were looking for was "mobile". The iPad, while clearly stating it is an iPad also mentions that the browser is Safari Mobile. Ooops. If you are going to determine which site a visitor sees, ask the right questions. At least there is a "Full Site" link at the bottom. But I think it looks amateurish.

Layout is only half the problem.

The second thing they got wrong is creating an entirely separate site for mobile. The mobile site uses an "m." instead of a "www." in the URL. I fully understand that many of their readers access the site using only their phone.  But not every one does. (In my mind I picture moguls sitting on their decks hanging from the side of the Santa Monica Mountians reading this site with an iPad.)

The problem set up by having a different site subdomain for the mobile site comes when someone on a phone "likes" a post on Facebook or Twitter. The link that goes into the status update that other people will see is set to the mobile site. So if someone on a desktop browser sees the Facebook link and clicks to read the Deadline post, they get the mobile site... on their desktop. This also works the same way the other way around.

Today's crazy Internet

This highlights just one of the many disruptions that constantly arise behind the scenes of the Internet.  It would be simple to advise that Deadline simply rework their site as a "responsive" site and design the layout to adjust automatically to any device screen size.  That is how the site your are now reading is setup — try it, make your browser window very narrow and watch the page elements move around — but there are other concerns.

If Deadline is figuring their phone-based visitors are using their cellular plans to access the site rather than wi-fi, a typical responsive site would bring down way too much data to be efficiently using the visitors expensive cellular bandwidth. Also, the page would be very slow rendering; these pages have a lot of elements, including video and other embedded widgets.

So what is the answer?

For me, stop redirecting my iPad to the obviously phone layout.  But the answer for Deadline (or Penske Media who owns Deadline) might be to make an app for their dedicated phone visitors and then a responsive site for everyone else, including the occasional phone visitor. But wait... I looked in the Apple App Store and found that Deadine has an app. Unfortunately it rates only two and half stars. Apparently the app is painfully slow — the exact problem an app should be overcoming.

I would think Deadline or Penske Media has a gaggle of developers either on staff or under contract in some way. Perhaps they just don't make any money off the Deadline site, but I doubt it.