Five ways to think mobile first (notes for OpenGov Hackathon and BCNI Philly)

On Saturday April 28 I’ll be in Philadelphia to help with the BarCamp News Innovation unconference and Open Government News Hackathon. These events are sponsored by the Center for Public Interest Journalism at Temple University, and are part of Philly Tech Week.

Temple is my old stomping ground; I graduated from journalism school there in 1990. And I’m rather stunned at all the huge new buildings that have sprung up around the campus. Good to see the school grow!

The reason Temple brought me in to help with these events is because I’m passionate about mobile and about the Philly area. I grew up in South Jersey and still have lots of family and friends in the region. So for me, helping more people in the Greater Philadelphia Area access more useful local information, news, and services via their cell phones is not just important — it’s personal!

…This is especially pressing given the continuing rocky status of Philadelphia Media Network, which publishes the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Daily News, and Philly.com. My grandfather Len McAdams worked on the editorial team of “The Inky” for decades. He’d be furious to hear that earlier this month PMN was sold for the fifth time in six years — at a fire sale price of $55 million. Sheesh.

Here are a few points I’d like participants in tomorrow’s barcamp and hackathon to consider…

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It’s not HTML5 anymore

On Jan. 19, the group responsible for the long-overdue new HTML standard, announced a decision which WebScanNotes recently noted:

They must have heard murmurs of frustrations over their slowness in finalizing the HTML5 standards, and have came up with one of the most innovative ways to address it – by dropping the “5″ version and call it a “living standard”.

Read: HTML5 to Drop the “5

This makes sense from a standards-management perspective, and I guess it’s less embarrassing…  But I think it might make it harder for people who aren’t hardcore insiders to track the kind of developments that make HTML5 interesting, especially for mobile web projects.

Oppose internet censorship …and then what happens?

There’s a well-designed site informing people about the nature, extent and mechanisms of internet censorship called: So you still think the internet is free

Basically it’s a series of well-chosen infographics, which make their points well.

At the end, there’s this call to action:

Time For You To Take A Stance.

Do you want an internet with more openess and less censorship?

47,347 People

Have Said YES.

…I clicked on the “say yes” button. And…

Nothing happened.

Huh?

Perhaps the creators — whoever they are, they don’t say — are trying to make an ironic meta-point: “You can’t actually do anything about net censorship, so your opposition is futile.”

Or maybe they got so enamored with creating a perfect design experience that they forgot about the action part? Which would be a damn shame.

Or maybe something about the “Say Yes” button is broken?

Either way, it’s a great windup and pitch. But the connection is missing.



Yet another reason to make your site mobile-friendly: disability access

I just wrote this post for the Knight Digital Media Center at USC:

Got accessibility? Mobile-friendly sites also help disabled users

It was sparked by a new Pew report on problems that people with disabilities have with accessing the net. I found a couple of interesting twists.

1st: US DOJ has proposed new ADA regs for web sites, including “public accommodations” (hm, could include news sites?)

2nd: Making a site mobile-friendly goes a long way toward making it more accessible.

This subject is near and dear to my heart since one of my best friends, who is mostly blind, has faced significant struggles in getting access to services, information, education, and opportunities online and elsewhere. That has definitely hurt not only his quality of life, but his health. And he’s fairly tech-savvy! This is a problem that needs to be solved, and going mobile-friendly is one main way to start.

Windy Citizen Uses Cool Tools to Cover Blagojevich

As the ripples spread from Chicago’s latest corruption drama, the community news site Windy Citizen is trying some innovative, fun approaches to online coverage and commentary. They did this using free online tools that anyone can use.

Here’s what one of these tools can create:

More about what Windy Citizen is doing on this front…
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Transit sites: Go mobile, please!

If ANY web site should have a mobile-friendly layout that automatically loads when accessed by a mobile device, it’s public transit sites.

Seriously — people want to use transit sites on the go! That’s kind of the whole point of transit.

My local transit agency is RTD Denver. Go check out that site. It’s hard enough to navigate on a computer with a big display and a real keyboard. Just try it on your phone! Torture!

And if they offer a mobile version, they sure don’t make that obvious.

Got some especially good examples of mobile-friendly public transit sites? Give your examples in the comments.

My cool red laptop case

Lately, nearly everywhere I go people remark on my transparent red plastic laptop case. It does look pretty cool, I think. It’s just two clear pieces of plastic that snap on easily, with cutouts for ports. (However, if you want to pull out your battery, you’ll need to pop off the case.)

Amy's cool laptop case

The anodized aluminum of the Macbook Pro is notoriously easy to scratch, and difficult to clean off sticker gunk from. I like laptop stickers, and change them from time to time. (Oh, if you’re looking for cool stickers, go to Sticker Giant.)

My hardcase is by Speck Products, which makes it for several Mac laptop models (including the Air) in several colors. For a 15″ Macbook Pro, cost is $49.95 plus shipping You can buy it directly from Speck or through Amazon.com and other online vendors.

Today I see they’ve just released a purple model. That’s the color I wanted in the first place. But the red has kind of grown on me, I think I’ll stick with it.