16 December 2009

Going Mobile Faster: VOA Needs to Do More

It’s a fact that more and more people worldwide are using mobile devices to receive news and information. Going to work here in Washington on the subway, I see scores of fellow commuters glancing at mobile phone screens, surfing the web, reading email and even watching video. Sometimes it seems more people are using mobile devices than are reading newspapers.

A recent study here in the U.S. found nearly 90 percent of mobile device owners were interested in receiving live news and other programming on the go. Separately, 46 percent found the idea of watching live TV programming on their mobile devices appealing.

Voice of America is trying to meet the mobile challenge. It’s an urgent mission, especially since, as VOA’s Africa Division Director Gwen Dillard noted recently, “The growth of mobile technology is largely due to young, urban users of new technology. It’s important to reach this market and try to shape their news habits, since they will socialize the next generation of users.”

VOA is beefing up SMS delivery in places such as Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Pakistan, Indonesia and China.

VOA’s Persian News Network is poised to launch an application for Android and iPhones, a VOA first. VOA English has a mobile-compatible site.

But is it enough? And is it coming quickly enough?

With more and more people worldwide embracing smart phones, Steve Buttry, a U.S.-based media trainer and former journalist, suggests too many news organizations are falling behind consumers, stuck on pursuing “web-first” strategies when they should instead be pursuing a “mobile-first” strategy.

Buttry, who has worked not only in the U.S. but also in several foreign countries, including Ireland, Venezuela, Mexico, Germany, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Ecuador and Russia, writes about this in a column on his website.

Buttry says, “we need to make mobile innovation the top priority and the first thing we think of when we plan change in our organizations.”

Buttry notes, and I have heard the same argument from skeptics, that the percentage of people who actually own iPhones or other smart phones is relatively small. But he says, and I have to agree, “if we wait until nearly everyone has some sort of smart phone, someone else will be filling the roles that we can and should fill.”

A new research study indicates the smart phone market is growing dramatically --- with projected sales of nearly two billion devices over the next five years. A report by Pyramid Research says China will become the biggest smart phone market in 2010, and other key markets such as Brazil, India, Turkey and Nigeria will record annual growth rates above 30% through 2014. Pyramid says Latin America will be the fastest growing region overall followed by Africa and the Middle East.

What does a “mobile first” strategy mean in order to meet these market demands? News executives need to devote more resources to mobile device applications. Journalists need to think more about how to package and deliver news for mobile devices. And the information technology workers at news organizations need to pay more attention to the development of mobile applications.

As Buttry says, “This will either be our future or our next squandered opportunity.”

I think it’s a fair question for VOA managers to consider. The NewsBlog would like to hear from them…and from you.

1 comment:

Scho said...

Mobile phones are lightweight and easy to carry compared to newspapers which are mostly large pieces of printed papers and
the print tends to come out. We are also talking about conservation here. Since the majority of work is done using some form of digital technology, permitted news can be very quickly reported online rather than going through the process of printing which takes up time. Is everyone using the smart phone or even the ordinary mobile phone to read news or is this equipment used for other functions ? You can set up a poll or even do a small research on how many people actually use their phones to receive and read news; actual news, not tabloids, not magazines, not news of a non serious nature. However, permitted reported news is another form of official documents and that is why there has to be a hard copy. Not every person in the world is I.T. literate. Some people likes reading printed words. Both digital news and printed news will still have to compliment one another.