We have today launched Jisc Mobile, a cut-down version of the Jisc website, optimised for mobile use.
The site contains recent content that users are likely to want to access whilst on the move, such as news items or podcasts. It doesn't contain all the content on the Jisc website and links are provided on every page back to the main site for those who want to explore further (although the main site is not optimised for mobile devices).
Jisc Mobile is a pilot service and we have deliberately started small to assess demand and get early feedback from users. Please help us to improve the site by telling us what you think, if you value such a service, and what other Jisc content you would like to access on your mobile device.
It is also a 'beta' service, i.e. it uses new technology that is still in its development cycle. The site might sometimes fail or give unexpected results. Again, you can help us to improve it by reporting any bugs.
Jisc Mobile was developed for us by ILRT at the University of Bristol, based upon their Mobile Campus Assistant software. The software was initially developed via a Jisc-funded Rapid Innovation project and is being further developed in the MyMobileBristol project under the Jisc Business and Community Engagement programme.
The application harvests content from a number of external sources (in our case, RSS feeds from the Jisc website) and converts them into RDF for storage in a database. This RDF Store is then queried via a RESTful interface that outputs the content in mobile-optimised HTML. The benefit of this approach is that we are not having to create and maintain content separately for the mobile website. It uses existing data that only needs to be managed in one place.
Jisc Mobile has extended the functionality of Mobile Campus Assistant. One of the main challenges was the developers needed to build code to identify and transform data structures within the source RSS so they are optimised for mobile. For example, tables are linearised in the mobile version as multi-column tables do not work on a small screen and we took the decision to remove all images to increase the performance of the pages, especially over 3G (and slower) networks. As with Mobile Campus Assistant, the code developed in this project is open source and is available on Github.
Some interesting issues arose as a result of working within the limitations that mobile imposes. For example, the importance of microcopy came to the fore. We needed to change the 'Supporting Your Institution' section on the main website to 'Institutional Support' on the mobile version because the former label would not fit on a small screen. It's a less than ideal compromise as it subtly changes the meaning, from an active to a passive mode. Unless we want to maintain 2 separate versions of our content (and we don't have the resources for that), this illustrates the need for content strategists to consider the mobile experience from the outset, from the length of headings to the use of data structures within pages. As the demand for mobile access to the web is increasing rapidly (and will overtake desktop access in a matter of years), our content needs to get in shape; snappier, leaner and more flexible.
Jisc Mobile is available at http://m.jisc.ac.uk/. We'd love to hear your comments and please report any bugs. There is a feedback page on the site itself or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you blog or tweet about it, please mark your posts with #jiscweb so we can find them.