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David Lee King

Writing for the Mobile Web



Writing for the mobile web is a LOT like all those “writing for the web” articles you’ve probably seen before, but with more emphasis on scannability and engagement. Why?

Because writing for the mobile web has an audience mostly using smartphones. Three things apply here:

  1. You are writing for the small screen. So the ability to quickly scan content is HUGE.
  2. People are used to interacting with their smartphones. They “touch” Facebook and Twitter. They can comment, like, or share easily.
  3. People are easily distracted on smartphones. If your content doesn’t load fast, they’re gone. If it’s not engaging, they’re gone. If they don’t “get it” fast, they’re gone.

We have our jobs cut out for us, don’t we!

Here are some tips for writing for the mobile web (these also apply to writing for the general web):

Think short:

  • write short, to-the-point articles
  • edit, edit, edit – make every word count
  • Stick to one idea, topic, or goal per post

Create strong titles:

  • Make titles short. The BBC uses 5-6 words per title!
  • Front-load the title with appropriate words to make the point of the article clear and understandable out of context (i.e., for search engines)

Create actionable content:

  • Focus on the benefits of using the product or service, not the features. What’s in it for the reader?
  • Have a next step or call to action in each article. (i.e., check out this book, attend this program, etc.)
  • Always link to things you talk about (i.e., link to the catalog when mentioning books, etc.)
  • Frontload your content. The first paragraph of text should be stuffed with the most important content (think inverted pyramid).

Make content scannable:

  • No huge blocks of text – break up long paragraphs.
  • Break the rules and use fewer than 3 sentences per paragraph if needed. One sentence paragraphs are ok, if it looks correct on a mobile device!
  • Use headings, subheadings, lists and bullet points. These help make the content scannable.

Be conversational:

  • put your readers first. Speak to them, not at them. Use we and you.
  • Use informal, conversational writing. Blog posts are a conversation!
  • Ask questions, ask for a response.
  • Type like you talk. Read your content back to yourself. If it doesn’t sound like something you’d actually say, re-write it so it does.

Other articles:

What should be added here? What do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

photo by Robert Patton

6 comments


Mobile devices - December 2013My library’s web developer, Nathan Pauley, shared this article with me: The Mobile Moment, by Luke Wroblewski. In the article, Luke discusses how processes, priorities, and product thinking change when the majority of your web traffic shifts from desktop to mobile devices.

Probably a good thing to start thinking about now, rather than later. Why? Well, in my library’s case, we are getting closer all the time. For example, the image included in this post shows mobile visits for my library’s website for December 2013:

  • Blue = desktop website visits (67.4%)
  • Green = mobile device visits (20.3%)
  • Red = tablet device visits (12.3%)

So … add the mobile and tablet percentages together, and you get 32.6%. Almost 33% of web traffic coming from some type of mobile device! What was that percentage a year ago? A whopping 17.6%. If that rate continues, we’ll be around 50% mobile traffic in another year. Wowser!

What should we be thinking about when we hit 50% mobile traffic? Here are some thoughts – please add yours!

  • Responsive website, or at least some form of mobile website. That’s why my library is going responsive (our redesign should be live by the end of January!).
  • Mobile-friendly content. It’s not enough to have web-friendly content. Think about making that content mobile-friendly, too.
  • Easy ways to share, like, and interact with social media sites.
  • Quick ways to connect to library staff and to library content directly from a customer’s mobile device.

What else? Let’s get this mobile thing figured out!

3 comments


My library has a bunch of econtent – services like Freegal, OneClick Digital, Hoopla, OverDrive, Zinio, Treehouse, and Mango Languages.

Each of these tools point to real content – movies, music, books, magazines, and classes – but they live on the digital branch.

Our marketing department created a fun way to promote these econtent services by using business cards.

Each card has a word and an image on the front, and a brief description and a URL to the service on the back of the card.

We are using these cards to promote a bunch of services:

  • Music – promotes Freegal
  • Audiobooks – promotes OneClick Digital
  • Video – promotes Hoopla
  • Ebooks – promotes Overdrive
  • Language – promotes Mango
  • Magazines – promotes Zinio
  • Design & Program – promotes Treehouse

The idea? Place these cards around the building, hand them out at events, etc. Basically – give them to customers, so customers know about all this cool content we have. It’s one way of getting content that lives on the digital branch “out of the building.”

You can see the other cards we created over on my Flickr account.

Update: And here’s the back of the Music card, as an example of the info we provide.

8 comments


I recently went on a whirlwind tour of Kansas City area makerspaces and co-working spaces, as part of a group of local community leaders interested in creating a really cool co-working/maker/hacker/media space in the Topeka area.

My library’s definitely interested – we are creating a digital media lab this year. So touring these spaces was pretty useful!

Here’s where I visited – read the post, and follow along in the video!

  1. Johnson County Library’s Makerspace - this small makerspace has two iMac computers, a 3D printer, a sewing machine, and a scanner, among other things. The space is set up for a variety of creative pursuits.
  2. Homes for Hackers – Not much about this place in my video, but it’s a pretty cool idea. If you have a start-up business, you can move to Kansas City, stay at Homes for Hackers for three months for free, and focus full-time on your idea. And use Google Fiber, too.
  3. Think Big Partners – A co-working space that also offers 6-9 month mentoring programs for early-stage technology-focused startups. All of the co-working spaces offered some form of a desk and chair, a mailing address, wifi, coffee, event space, meeting rooms, and flexible, month-to-month payment plans.
  4. OfficePort KC – A co-working space about 2-3 blocks away from Think Big Partners. They also offer a nice-looking sound stage for video work.
  5. Innovation Cafe – Another co-working space. This space was the most affordable for people just needing a place to sit – $39 a month. And it’s across the street from Kansas City Public Library’s main building – can’t beat that!
  6. Union Station’s Maker Studio – a nice makerspace focused on kids and teens. It’s in Science City, a hands-on children’s science museum. They aren’t open yet – I think their plan is to open sometime in January (so really soon). They have 3D printers, Arduino kits, soldering irons, a HUGE CNC router, etc. Lots to learn and experience here.
  7. Hammerspace – A really cool makerspace with a lot to offer. Check out the video – when I was there, there were a LOT of grown dudes making things. Thinks involving Arduinos, 3D printers, soldering irons, coding, etc. There was also an artist working on some sort of screenprint thing. And lots of visiting and sharing, too!

There’s a LOT happening in Kansas City right now, which is pretty neat! Hopefully I can help stretch that an hour west to Topeka :-)

What are your plans for a makerspace in 2014? Have you started thinking about it? I’d love to hear more!

2 comments

Will Copyright Catch up?



A couple days ago, I had an interesting “teaching moment” with my 14 year old. That evening, we decided to watch a movie. Usually we either pick a streaming movie off of Netflix or rent something from iTunes (yes, and once in awhile borrow it from the library).

This time, we wanted to watch Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.

Guess what? It was nowhere to be found. Disney has a weird practice of placing a sort of moratorium on their movies – meaning, you can’t buy or rent some of them. Not even from the Disney Store.

Anyway … mad librarian searching pro that I am … I solved our “we want to watch a movie” problem pretty easily. I did a quick Google search for beauty and the beast full movie and found a rogue streaming version that we could watch. We watched it, it worked fine, and we had a fun evening.

Afterwards, the 14 year old was asking why the movie was so hard to find, so I explained what Disney does with their movies, and how someone had decided to burn their DVD and upload the movie to a file sharing site, probably to “solve the problem.” And the fact that that’s sorta illegal. And that watching the illegal stream is probably a bit shady, too.

Ultimately, I was able to explain to my daughter how those copyright rules worked great before she was born, but they don’t really work now. Copyright in today’s world is kind of like enforcing a “no chewing gum within city limits” law. Impossible at best, ridiculously silly to attempt to enforce at worst.

Why? Because the web is so easy to use, and because there are so many file sharing and multimedia streaming sites. I’ll guess that if we tried hard enough, we could have watched the whole movie in chunks on Youtube. People like uploading movies and TV shows in chunks on Youtube. Slightly inconvenient, but it works.

In my family’s movie-watching case, who broke the law? Did we by watching? Did someone else by burning and uploading? Did the file sharing site, by providing a place to store files? Did AT&T, by providing my DSL line? The answer is probably … yes.

Is copyright broken? The answer is also a resounding yes. Can it be fixed? Probably so. I’m certainly no copyright expert, but I know it’s not working. Will it catch up to the 21st century? What do you think?

6 comments