Think Info

Exploring the information space

… in “static” and “mobile” contexts (ICC2014)

Though Christiaan Lustig’s session was actually titled “Dealing with top tasks in ‘static’ and ‘mobile’ contexts,” the most important point was not about the top tasks per se, but a better understanding of what the term “mobile context” should really mean.

We hear repeatedly (from the likes of Karen McGrane) that mobile is massive – that a huge portion of the population only have mobile devices, and that for many it is their only means of accessing the web. Consequently, they say, the mobile context is really important.

Christiaan’s take is different. Starting with an example of checking train times in a Dutch site, he explained how the night before, his need was to find the right route, and understand how long the journey would be. But on the day of travel, while stuck on a train that was delayed by 10 minutes, his use of the same site related to understanding the impact of that delay on a journey he was in the middle of – how the missed connection would impact the remainder of his trip.

This focus on activity as opposed to device to define the mobile context is an important distinction. And it creates a completely different perception (which does not detract from the need to deal with mobile device layout as a distinct issue).

Indeed, with this new definition, mobile drops in significance to 8-30% of users. The non-mobile users are static, and their needs are not dependent on the device they use.

Christiaan also warned against using analytics to identify what your users want, based on environment or device. Such result will be biased by how easy or difficult the site is to access and use to achieve various tasks, given its current configuration.

There is one critical down-side to this new definition of the mobile: the tools available to identify when someone is in the mobile context are not particularly good yet. On the up-side, for the most part, top tasks are not overly impacted by the distinction between static and mobile contexts.

Raw notes

  • People are willing and able to manage their own affairs, especially with the power of the web.
  • Checking train times the night before and when stuck on the platform… does this identify a mobile context?
  • Internet analytics are about what you have already published. Biased by how hard it is to access.
  • Important analysis axis: from where do you access… static vs mobile. (Location, not device)
  • How do you actually know what context a user is in when they visit your site? (hint: assumptions)
  • Assumptions are the mother of all screw-ups.
  • In order to provide variable content, task and context dependent, you need a choreographing system.
  • The mobile context (location, not device) is still a small audience: 8-30%.
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