The Postdesktop Mobile Web: Where Context is Queen

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King Content and His Queen Context

Healthline Networks, Inc., a healthcare content provider, has a terminology database consisting of more than 1 million medical terms, consumer-friendly systems, and 250,000 medical concepts that include diseases, conditions, causes, symptoms, diagnoses, and treatments. David Kopp is senior vice president of network and advertising services with Healthline in San Francisco.

Healthline has always had a large body of health information content on its website, says Kopp. Over the past 5 years, he says, the company noted a significant shift in traffic coming from mobile devices. It became quickly apparent that Healthline would need to optimize its content for the mobile experience.

Before moving in this direction, though, the company realized that it needed to fully understand exactly how and why users were accessing the content and how that access might vary across settings and devices. So Healthline took steps to monitor and evaluate how users were accessing its information, where they were accessing it from, and what types of information were being accessed. There have been some surprises. About 10% of traffic comes from mobile devices (up about 50% over the last 6 months), says Kopp. But for certain conditions, that percentage increases to about 20%. These are conditions, he says, where there may be an "embarrassment factor." Mobile devices, he notes, are inherently more private and tend to be things that people do not share. "Doing a search on a shared PC is not the same as doing a search on your private phone," he says.

Those differences in usage are referred to as context, an important consideration for content providers in terms of how they create and deliver pertinent user experiences.

Everyone says that content is king, notes Tom Wentworth, VP of web solutions at Ektron, Inc., a web technology firm based in Nashua, N.H. He adds: "If content is king, then context is queen. Content plus context is the key to delivering successful multi-channel experiences."

One of the most interesting applications of context, says Wentworth, is physical location. "Being able to understand where someone is tells you a lot, potentially, about what they came to your site to do." For instance, a university that knows a mobile user is on campus can deliver a different experience than if that mobile user is 1,000 miles away because, says Wentworth, the context is different. "If you're on campus, you probably want to know about where the student union is located, or where your class is located." If you're 1,000 miles away, the information you're seeking is likely to be far more general. In fact, Wentworth adds: "Where we're probably seeing the most success right now is the education space, probably because their audience is entirely in that sector that gets why mobile is important."

Wentworth isn't the only one who stresses the importance of context. "We don't talk in traditional terms of media," says Hassan. "We talk much more in terms of the experiences you want to create for customers."

If users are visiting an airline's website using a PC or a desktop, they're probably looking to book a flight or do comparison shopping. If they're accessing it on a mobile phone and you know they're accessing it on the day of an intended flight, you can assume that they're looking for a different kind of experience. They may be trying to get to the gate, trying to get to the airport on time, or trying to find out where to get lunch at the airport. "Until you, as a web content manager, can start to think in terms of this, you're not really providing a good experience for your customers," says Heise.

Understanding consumer needs and creating and delivering value to consumers in convenient and personalized ways may represent a boon to industries that have struggled with creating value through the traditional web. "A contextualized experience is becoming more and more important," says Heise. "Contextualization takes into account a far greater set of data, starting with the users' behavior-the device and time of day, their previous interactions with the site, their social interests and social history-and making that something that the business user can edit in the same way that they manage the content."

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