Picture people visiting your website. Really picture them: age, gender, ethnicity, the works.
I’d take bets that when you did that you pictured them sitting down. They were probably at a desk, or maybe using a laptop while sitting on a couch.
We all do it. We assume that our visitors are static, sitting down, at a computer.
It underlies all our assumptions about what information we’ll provide via the Internet, and how we provide it.
The landline phone
When I was a kid we had a phone at our house. There was one single phone, wired into the wall in the hallway. To make or answer a call you had to go into the hall and stand within a few feet of the phone base.
As a young adult I transitioned to a cordless phone that I could use in any room in the house. What freedom!
Cellphones have changed our lives
Then I got a cellphone, and miracle of miracles, I could make a phonecall when I was out and about.
Now nearly everyone has a cellphone. We think nothing of checking where a family member is, calling home to see what’s needed at the supermarket, sending text messages to friends to say we’re running late for a coffee meeting.
Cellphones have given us freedom and convenience.
When we provide information over the Internet most of us are still thinking ‘landline’.
We assume, quite unconsciously, that the ‘user’, the ‘visitor’, will be sitting at a computer ‘wired’ into the wall. The computer, even if part of a wireless network, will be in a house or office. The user will have to make a special effort to use the laptop or desktop machine — at the very least, they’ll have to sit down.
It’s not true any more. Smartphones, ‘cellphones with Internet’, are becoming increasingly popular. [See: Fact and fiction in the palm of your hand.]
This means that people are increasingly using the Internet while on the move.
Instant, live, information
What’s more, smart phones include applications — bits of software that do specific things, such as:
- show a weather forecast,
- display a labelled map of the night sky in real time,
- display tweets and let you send them,
- display a bus timetable for the stop you’re at,
- show you where you currently are,
- show you activities near where you are,
- display traffic information.
What can you provide in (near) real-time
If people want information ‘right here, right now’ what can your organisation provide them with?
- Do you still have places available for a course or event? Could you offer a 75% discount 1 hour before the start, and sell those final tickets?
- Has your event been called off suddenly because of weather or traffic? You can let people know.
- Are you mounting an emergency action in response to an unexpected community ‘situation’? Call for volunteers to attend right now.
- Would you shape your existing static information differently if you knew people were accessing it ‘on the move’?
- Can you provide Google Map co-ordinates for your offices or rooms? Opening times (including public holidays)?
Ask smartphone owners what they want from you? Ask around to see who has smartphones — it’s not just ‘trendy geeks’. Even my computer-phobic hairdresser has an iPhone she loves.
Smartphones are changing how we go about our daily lives, in the way that cellphones have changed everything.
We need to start thinking what that means for what we do.
Written by Miraz Jordan for, and reproduced from CommunityNet Aotearoa Panui, February 2010. This article has been modified for publication here.