Mobile App Content Is All About Structure

More structure means more freedom for your content. If you’d like to make your content both adaptive and reusable in the future, you need to divide it into meaningful parts. Publishing anything on the Internet means that this piece of content will go to a database where zillions of other articles and webpages are stored. You need to add structure to your content so you don’t lose it and can work with it later.

Photo credit: mind on fire / Foter / CC BY-SA

If your article is broken down into smaller text chunks, you are free to combine those chunks in various ways and find new ways of using them. Adding tags and priority marks will help you sort and filter the material in any way you want. You need to create elements and units of content instead of a giant mass of text. This is known as content modeling, which involves four basic steps:

  • Types of content. Determine what the content is. Is it an article, a product specification, a recipe, a slideshow, or something else?
  • Attributes. Determine the fields that are included in the content body. Can this type of content include headings, text, images, audio, video, author names, and author bios?
  • Data restrictions. Determine the limits that will be set for each content attribute. Should a field have a particular numeric format, character limit, date format, or image specification?
  • Relationships. Determine if different elements are connected.

The figure below comes from Karen McGrane’s book on mobile strategy, which is part of the Book Apart series. The illustration shows how the website for Tech Guy Labs — a popular radio show — has been organized and structured to allow useful searching. Content attributes are shown in white, and content types are shown in grey.

We can see that the episode is the dominate content type and that each content type option has unique attributes. As Jeff Easton noted, the website is now driven towards “a richer, more descriptive schema.” The website can now be used as a foundation for the mobile app, and some additional features, such as geolocation, make the whole website easier to browse. In terms of CMS, your writers just need to enter the content piece-by-piece into independent fields. Remember that your content model should work not only for readers but also for writers, so try to remember their needs when working with content management in a mobile app.

When I talk about content that should adapt to each platform, I don’t mean that you should publish the same exact content to each platform. Adaptive content allows you to create a flexible content base that includes context interpretation. So what’s the main difference in publishing separately for your desktop website/mobile website version/mobile app and introducing adaptive content for each of these platforms? The difference is that you implement content packages instead of separate pages with content. With adaptive content, you think about the process of creating, using, controlling, republishing, promoting, and maintaining content. By setting your controls in a centralized system (such as a CMS), you avoid branching content and become the content’s rightful “governor” because it’s easy to maintain it all in one place. Therefore, your workflow comes from a single source. Whether you need shorter or longer headlines, adapted graphics and rich media, or shorter or longer summaries, it’s much easier to manage all this content from a single content package rather than using “forked” content flows, which are difficult to fix once they have been promoted or published.

Photo credit: Syntopia / Foter / CC BY

Your mobile website or mobile app design also needs to be responsive. The worst thing that can happen is for the mobile device to download all the data from a desktop version and then cut off anything that won’t fit into the mobile template. Unfortunately, this is what happens with many websites; the problem is that we pay too much attention to the front-end and forget about the back-end.

Responsive content seems to be the answer because it adjusts content according to the screen size and platform, showing only relevant content chunks for the appropriate device and interface. However, you should keep two more things in mind. First, just as I’ve said, content should be structured as in the example above; it should be divided into meaningful elements connected with metadata and business logics. Second, you also need a smart system to open up this content properly because without a good opening mechanism, your content is just a load of information without adaptation and representation. No responsive system can exist without these two points. Begin by structuring content and then shift to choosing a smart responsive system for representation. The next step involves visually independent content, which I will talk about in my next blog post.

Have you started working on your mobile content? What stage are you in right now? Please share your experience with us.