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Summary:

Apparently The Boston Globe didn’t get the memo that it’s an app-only world when it comes to mobile. The Globe says at paidContent 2012 its website is doing very well in mobile — more than 30 percent of visitors come through a phone or tablet browser.

The HTML5 "responsive design" reflexively re-sizes the site depending on the device and screen.
photo: Boston Globe

Updated: Apparently The Boston Globe didn’t get the memo that it’s an app-only world when it comes to mobile. According to VP of digital products Jeff Moriarty,  the Globe’s website, Bostonglobe.com, is doing quite well on mobile with more than 30 percent of visitors coming to the site through a phone or tablet browser. In fact, at a panel at the paidContent 2012 conference, digital publishers challenged the mythos that native apps provide a superior mobile experience than HTML5.

“We’re not building a video game here,” Moriarty said. “It’s news, photos and text.”

For many news sites, HTML5 has become the default form of coding. Even if a publisher is pushing out a mobile app, it’s often an HTML app in a native wrapper. When deciding whether to follow an app or a Web browser model, the decision isn’t a technology one — native code versus HTML5 – instead, it’s a distribution decision, said Mark Johnson, CEO of news aggregator Zite.

For a startup or a company that doesn’t have a well-known brand, discoverability becomes key, so it’s necessary to stake a claim in platform app stores, Johnson said. But when it comes down to implementation Zite is basically building Web pages optimized with a native user interface. There’s far more flexibility in that approach: your Web developers suddenly don’t need to turn into Objective C programmers and you can modify your app on the server without pushing a complete update to the device, Johnson said.

As Zite builds up its own online brand (CNN acquired Zite last year), its dependence on the app store may lessen, but Johnson said the need for a slick UI will keep Zite app-store bound for some time. “People have a very high expectation of what the UI looks like,” he said. “You risk losing a lot of downloads if you forget the UI.”

The Washington Post is splitting the difference. It leans heavily on its own mobile apps, including its Facebook Social Reader, but it also has a big presence in the mobile browser. WaPo Labs chief strategist and editor-at-large Rob Malda agreed with Johnson that the Post has the advantage to leverage a huge well-respected news brand to drive traffic to the mobile Web site. “Discoverability is not a problem,” Malda said, but he added that the Post can just as easily use that same brand to nudge its readers to its apps and other digital media technologies.

Ultimately, whether the Post focuses on apps or the mobile Website, it will continue to lean heavily of HTML5 for its core development, Malda said. “I like the hybrid thing,” he said. “Laying out a newspaper – I don’t want to do that in native.”

HTML5 in a native wrapper has it’s limitations, as well. As my colleague Kevin Tofel has pointed out, the experience on the Facebook Android and iPhone apps sucks precisely because they’re HTML apps masquerading as natives. That led Kevin to start using accessing Facebook solely from his mobile browser where performance notably improved.

This post was updated to correct the name of the Boston Globe’s main news website, which is bostonglobe.com, not boston.com.

Check out the rest of our coverage of paidContent 2012. Full archived video on livestream (registration required).

  1. Go Sencha Touch!

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  2. Werner Patels Wednesday, May 23, 2012

    It’s not an app-only world. Newspapers don’t require a standalone app to be successful. We’re not talking about apps with special features and functions. People just want to read the news, and HTML5, or a well-designed news site read through a browser on a tablet is all anyone needs.

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  3. How long before this happens with eBooks and eMagazines? Wasn’t Amazon working on something like this (reading Kindle eBooks via web browswer)?

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    1. Kevin Fitchard Wednesday, May 23, 2012

      Good question. I mean, look at the book format. It’s just text. Why should I read it through the Kindle App when a Web page would do. The bookmarking and note-taking features wouldn’t be hard to replicate.

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  4. 100% agree with Moriarty. HTML5 is the way for news sites. No wrapper required.

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    1. infact posting this on a mobile site from the smartphone(N9) ;-)

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  5. Nick Johnson Thursday, May 24, 2012

    HTML5 is the way to go for online newspapers. Our company is starting to work on responsive design layouts for news media organizations (check out responsive design here http://yiibu.com). Content management through various mediums (smart phone, tablet, standard screen, etc.) via responsive design is improved in addition to duplicate content SEO issues going away. HTML5 technology and cross-browser adoption makes this a viable method for dynamic presentation.

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  6. The lead graph is a bit flawed in it’s embellishment of the Boston Globe’s mobile traffic. Of course they’re getting 30% of their visitors from mobile, you can actually read the full story on your phone! Go to their desktop website and you’re required to become a paid subscriber. Hit boston.com on your phone and you can read a lot of content. That 30% will only increase as more people seek out free information.

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