Strategy: One Website Or Two: Deploying Mobile Media Websites, Two Different Approaches
15 January 2010

Strategy: One Website Or Two: Deploying Mobile Media Websites, Two Different Approaches

One Website Or Two: Deploying Mobile Media Websites, Two Different Approaches


Figuring out how to deploy mobile websites can be tricky, especially when there is already a fully functional non-mobile website built. This article explores two approaches to deploying mobile website. One is a great transitional approach and the other is a more robust longer-term approach to mobile websites. The article is intended to get you thinking about the issues. More detail will be provided in upcoming articles.

There are two main models to deploying mobile media websites at this time.

Two Wesites With Redirection

The first approach to deploying mobile media website involves two websites, one that is mobile and one that is non-mobile. This is the most current approach to mobile websites at this time (early 2010). Most companies have an existing website that they have built, designed, and evolved and there is tremendous investment already in what is currently in existence. This causes some resistance to significantly changing their main website to accommodate mobile media.

When I have discussed mobile media deployment with organizations I have found resistance, and understandably so, to retrofit their existing website to support mobile devices. Doing a redesign requires some careful planning, a revised content management strategy and money.

The two website strategy begins by building a mobile website version using a different domain or sub-domain. Common choices are:

http://mobile.domain.com
or 
http://m.domain.com
or
http://domain.mobi

The .mobi domain is commonly used for mobile websites and is the officially sanctioned domain for mobile content. Many companies just add sub domains to their sites that they use for their mobile websites. This keeps the content under one domain rather than splitting it across two domains. There are advantages to this approach, such as cookies, security, and to simplify things technically.

The trick to the two website approach is to add device detection to the mix. Device detection is server side code that reads the "User Agent String" that is embedded in all server requests. This string contains information about the device being used. Every mobile device has a unique user agent string that can be detected by the server. If a mobile device is detected then code is written to redirect the request to the mobile site. If a non-mobile device is detected then the code redirects the request to the non-mobile site.

This approach is an excellent way to deploy a mobile site rapidly, at a reasonable cost, and in a staggered way. The are obviously some down-sides to this approach.

  • Two sets of code and two websites have to be maintained
  • Content for both sites is administered separately so this increases the overall workload for content editors and administrators
  • Two sites to plan and strategies

The advantages of this approach are:

  • Quick and easy to implement
  • Cheaper to build and not disruptive for the existing site
  • Allows you to keep your existing website with little changes (great for transitioning)

One Website with Conditional Content

This approach is more cutting edge and is the direction many website will be moving in over the next few years. The mobile and non-mobile sites are organized using a content management system that contains a database of all the website content. The content management system formats the pages using a template drive approach. Templates are files that define the look and feel of pages and are independent of the site data.

The advantage of this approach is that all the information is contained in one central repository. The content management system detects the devices connecting to the site and sends back pages formatted for mobile or non-mobile devices automatically. The sites are "virtual sites" rather than hard coded pages. The content is built dynamically depending on the type of device connecting to the site. I have called this approach to content "adaptive mobile content" and there is a white paper discussing this topic in more detail on http://smartairmedia.com

There are some great plug ins for Joomla and Drupal that will be accomplishing these tasks in the upcoming months. Some great developments are happening in this arena in the open source community. I will be discussing these emerging options in upcoming articles so stay tuned.

This approach is the right way to deploy mobile content and is scalable but requires a fundamental redesign of the existing design and architecture of the site. If the site is already on a Content Management System the transition path would be significantly cheaper and smoother. There are obviously some down-sides to this approach.

Often only a fraction of the content on the main site is practical for mobile devices so content has to be flagged for mobile or non-mobile delivery to ensure that the right content goes to the right device.

  • Can be expensive to implement
  • Requires migrating all existing content to a Content Management System
  • Two sites to plan and strategies

The advantages of this approach are:

  • Content can be edited and updated in one central place
  • Robust and template driven so design changes are easy and fast to implement
  • Supporting new mobile devices is easy to do with little or not intrusiveness to the site