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Journalist baffled by Quartz.com design

Feb 11, 2014 story titled Does it matter that mobile-native Quartz has a mobile-minority audience?

The answer is "No," since Quartz is an 18-month-old digital media startup, and responsive web design only began its popularity surge in 2011. The change toward a mostly mobile world is still in its infancy. Innovation is ongoing. User trends change rapidly. Two years ago, tablets were expected to be the devices, used to consume longform articles, but that may not be the case today.

This story would have merit if it was written in 2016.

Based upon the title, I inferred that Quartz must receive an insignificant amount of its traffic from mobile users (tablet and phone).

From the story:

A year ago [2013], around 30 percent of its unique visitors arrived at fast-growing Quartz on mobile devices; its latest three-month average stood at 41 percent.

41 percent represents a minority, but that's not insignificant like I thought the story was going to infer.

11 percent growth in mobile traffic in 12 months. What's the problem? Those numbers seem similar to many media or content sites. It's not as if most sites are averaging 70 percent traffic from mobile users.

And remember, Quartz could still be considered a startup because it has only existed for 18 months!!

As overall traffic increases, and more people use their phones to read content everywhere, Quartz will probably top 50 percent in mobile traffic by February 2015 if not by the end of 2014.

More from the unnecessary story that seems be looking for a story:

Nothing’s broken about Quartz on a desktop browser, but as with some other responsive designs I’ve highlighted, it only takes one glimpse to realize it was built primarily for smaller devices.

Yeah, so? It's a startup media company. Why would they not create their main distribution method as a responsive design site that works well on ALL devices?

As much as mobile is poised to keep growing in 2014, old desktop habits die hard — especially during business hours.

It's not a news flash that users at work like to view the web on their desktop/laptop computers. People who enjoy the type of content that Quartz produces may consume it, unfortunately, during business hours, using company computers.

Quartz.com is not a Snapchat-type of product.

Of the 41 percent of unique visitors coming from either tablets or smartphones, three-fourths consist of smartphone users. That means, in its effort to be as future-oriented as possible, Quartz optimized its site first for a tablet platform that still accounts for only about 1 in 10 of its 5 million monthly unique visitors.

If my arithmetic is correct, then at least 30 percent of Quartz's unique visitors come from smartphone users. That seems pretty good to me. Two years ago or even one year ago, the general thinking was that longform content would be consumed on tablets. Quartz designed based upon the current trends and predictions that existed when Quartz began.

A January 2014 story said a study showed that more users than expected consumed longform type articles on their phones.

And within the past week, a Re/Code writer opined that users have lost interest in tablets. Tablets will exist for a long time, I think. But for most people, they will access the content websites with their phones and laptop/desktop computers. I think that many user will trend toward a two-device preference, leaving the tablet behind.

I believe that our preferences can change rapidly. In 2011, 2012, and for much of 2013, I was a big fan of tablets, even the large version tablet. But now, I only like the smaller tablets, and I think that I could replace my longform tablet reading with a smartphone.

If the bulk of Quartz's mobile traffic comes from phone users, then Quartz's users may be on the leading edge of a future trend. All that means is that an 18-month-old startup may need to make a few design changes.

In 2013, I thought that content sites may need to design for the tablet first and then outward for phone and desktop/laptop. But it appears that phone first and then moving upward is the correct way to design a text-heavy site.

A startup like Quartz will adjust quickly to design needs if necessary.

A spokeswoman did say that the percentage of total visits coming via mobile was in line with the percentage of unique visitors coming via mobile, so it doesn’t sound like desktop users are any less engaged than their mobile counterparts are.

A neat thing about Quartz is that it constantly tweaks its code to adjust to how readers are using the site, and Delaney said Quartz would be rolling out some navigation changes this year that would have the biggest impact for users on large screens.

A startup can certainly get information about general Web usage from other companies or analysts, but for Quartz's purposes, it needs time to exist in order to learn how its users access the site. Again, it has only existed for under two years.

Quartz has also optimized its content for social shareability. Indeed, more than 50 percent of its traffic arrives via social referrals, Delaney told me, adding that mobile and social strategies often go hand-in-hand.

Mirroring the overall industry trend, Quartz’s desktop traffic is highest during the 9-to-5 workday, when its large audience of business professionals is likely to be stuck on computers. A further irony of Quartz’s mobile-first strategy is that business news tends to break during the day — not on nights and weekends, when tablet use soars and Quartz is least active on social media.

What irony? This writer is looking for a problem that does not exist. It's hilarious when media people ankle-bite at new digital companies who are trying to innovate. The news industry needs creativity.

... it wouldn’t be fair to fault Quartz for failing to surpass the arbitrary 50 percent mobile traffic threshold that the ESPNs and BuzzFeeds of the world are noted for crossing.

Will this writer note Quartz's crossing of the 50 percent mobile barrier later this year or early next year? ESPN and even BuzzFeed have been around longer than Quartz.

If Quartz's content caters to the 9 to 5, workday crowd, and Quartz still receives over 40 percent of its traffic from mobile users, mostly on phones, then to me, that's extremely impressive and fascinating.

Obviously, different ways exist of viewing the data that this writer has produced. The writer seems to think that Quartz made a business or engineering mistake, but Quartz is not providing sports scores and linkbait stories.

Instead of wondering when a site like Quartz will see its mobile traffic break the 50 percent barrier, how about noting when Quartz's phone-only traffic breaks the 50 percent barrier?

For a long while yet, "mobile" will continue to mean tablet and phone users. But it's possible that one day, "mobile" could imply only phone users. Most tablet users need a WiFi hotspot connection, so they are less mobile than a phone with cell service.

Yet there’s something sobering about the fact that providing readers with a fantastic mobile-first interface doesn’t necessarily mean mobile is where the bulk of your audience will be just yet. Quartz is awesome on tablets and less awesome on desktop, yet more people read it on desktop. If even Quartz’s audience — which includes readers from around the globe, many of whom access the web mostly via smartphones — hasn’t gone all-in for mobile yet, it’s no surprise that other news organizations have refrained from making similar long-term gambles.

If other news organizations have refrained from making the so-called gamble on mobile usage, then they will get left behind. From an August 2013 posting :

News executives have expressed an ongoing doubt that mobile will make money, taking a “wait and see” approach in making significant investments. But Bergman says news organizations need to stop being skeptical, recognize the need for mobile and “move quickly and decisively.” After all, mobile is poised to disrupt journalism just like the Internet did more than a decade ago.

Back to the February 2014 Poynter story:

There’s a reason 2014 is being called the third or fourth annual “year of mobile.” As Quartz shows, the mobile revolution isn’t as sudden as it’s often portrayed, and audiences still have some adjusting to do. Quartz will meet them on the other side.

I missed the info about how mobile was suppose to overtake us like a tidal wave. Back in 2012, one prediction said by 2015 or 2016, most users would access Web content on mobile devices. That may be the case, especially for many media sites.

In 2014, I don't think mobile usage lags behind predictions.

About the author:

Sam Kirkland is Poynter's digital media fellow, focusing on mobile and social media trends. Previously, he worked at the Chicago Sun-Times as a digital editor, where he helped launch digital magazines and ebooks in addition to other web duties.

December 2013 story Do mobile-friendly redesigns run the risk of frustrating desktop users?

People will be more irritated by a website that displays poorly on a phone than a site that displays poorly on desktop/laptop. And responsive design sites do not ignore the desktop/laptop users.

Too much competition exists for users' time. Users will be impatient with sites that render poorly on phones.

Additional info:

From my Aug 2013 posting about people reading news on tablets:

No surprise to me. The tablet is by far my favorite reading device for long reads.

My tune may change in 2014.

From the Nov 2012 Medium story:

For mobile this will be even more pronounced. We’ve seen BuzzFeed’s mobile traffic as a percent of all unique visitor traffic go from 20% to 40% in the past 12 months. I see no reason with LTE networks finally rolling out in a real way, that this couldn’t jump to 70% or 80% within a couple years. This is especially true for media sites- content people consume when they have available time.
Think about how the experience of getting a last-minute reservation at a restaurant has changed in just a few years. Tap on your phone’s Yelp app and it recognizes your location, gives you a list of nearby eatery recommendations, offers you the ability to make a reservation with a few more thumb taps, and guides you to your destination with a GPS-enabled map.

This kind of convenience has become more than a nifty bit of technology to consumers — it’s now an expectation, and it’s putting many companies under significant pressure to innovate rapidly and constantly, especially as the most competitive businesses are building powerful digital ecosystems to race to the head of the pack.

#media - #moronism - #mobile - #responsive - #design - #startup - #blog_jr

By JR - 1938 words
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