Two years, two dozen experiments, a $2.6 million grant from the Knight Foundation, and hundreds of thousands of readers later, the Guardian’s US Mobile Innovation Lab has finished its work on improving publishing on smartphones. For now at least.
It’s tackled better formats for push notifications, a web player for podcasts, offline news reading experiences, live polling, and article formats that automatically adjust to readers’ past reading behaviors. It’s also deliberately centered its work around off-platform experiences publishers can more easily own — no “how to make good AMP stories” here (platform representatives were invited, but none showed).
Here are some of the lab’s chief learnings and takeaways:
- Smarticles: What We’ve Learned (so far) From Testing an Intelligent New Story Format: “The Smarticle is a story format, designed for mobile, that aims to meet readers where they are in their knowledge of a developing story by only presenting them (individually) with the elements that are most useful to them using a specialised algorithm. The data from the Guardian’s three Smarticle tests consistently indicates a strong affinity for this story format, and even a need for it. Many readers found the format a more useful way to follow stories than through reading multiple articles, and the majority of survey respondents also said they would like to follow other stories in a similar format.”
- How to replace the content of an iOS notification: “iOS notifications have typically been relatively untouchable. Once you send one, it will live on the user’s phone until they swipe it away. But since the release of iOS 10, new APIs have given much more control over notifications after they’ve been posted, including the ability to replace the content of an existing notification. We used them to keep our inauguration live video notifications up to date, with the same principle we’ve used with web notifications to deliver election results. Here’s a quick overview of how to do it.”
- Best Practices for Using Notifications and Service Workers on a News Site: “We recently ran an experiment using the web Notification API to send the results of the UK election to directly to users’ lock screens. Best practice number one: We had to be very, very, very explicit about what a “sign up for notifications” button does before a user clicks on it. Never ask for notification permission on page load (but you’d never do that anyway, right?). Best practice number two: Be sure to provide a clear opt-out button on your notification. That way you can unsubscribe the user yourself, and preserve notification permissions.”
- Taking Web Podcasts From Hack to Production: “The code written for this experiment is freely available on GitHub. However, the convoluted nature of this experiment’s development means that the project isn’t organised or refactored for immediate reuse on a publisher’s own site. That said, it is a great resource to run locally and prototype adding annotations to your own podcasts. There is an example script file and MP3 audio in the repo for you to model your own script from.”
Overall the Guardian Mobile Innovation Lab is an excellent foray into how publishers can deliver mobile content more effectively and powerfully. Better still, all its learnings are freely available to other publishers to takeaway and develop further using their own resources.
For publishers looking at how to harness mobile publishing to an advanced degree, there isn’t a single resource that can match it. Not in 2018. To find out more, visit The Guardian Mobile Innovation Lab’s Medium Page.