26 February 2014 - 10:25am | posted by | 5 comments

'Mobile-first' has become a meaningless term, says FT’s CTO John O’Donovan while unveiling 'universal publishing' strategy

'Mobile-first' has become a meaningless term, says FT’s CTO John O’Donovan while unveiling 'universal publishing' strategy'Mobile-first' has become a meaningless term, says FT’s CTO John O

The term mobile-first has become “meaningless” in this multiplatform landscape where it has become crucial not to “obsess” over specific platforms but focus on the wider picture, according to the Financial Times’ chief technical officer John O’Donovan.

Speaking to The Drum at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, O’Donovan said that the term mobile-first has joined other marketing buzzwords and become overused, which can end up clouding what the real priorities should be.

“If you think about mobile first you are thinking of a specific-point solution, which is only one way of dealing with your audience, and if you start to think about it too much you forget about the other pieces."

"Focusing too much on one thing can lead to being obsessed with the things mobile can do – such as responsive sites.

“But these buzz words start to get a life of their own and become sentient beasts – they will crawl all over you if you let them. The result is that the terms themselves can become marketing in their own right and they can distract you.

“People will latch onto anything they can find in this sea of change – and will turn to something like responsive because they think ‘Ok I’ve got that, I understand it so will go with that’. But the bigger game is to be as broad as possible, and how you do that is crucial – it’s about interacting with people through different touch points in a cost effective way,” he said.

The FT, which became the first publisher to adopt a metered paywall in 2007 and launch HTML5-based newspaper experiences, has embraced a “universal publishing” strategy, according to Donovan. This involves experimenting with how content can live on all platforms that it makes business sense to be on..

He added that the publisher now makes more money from its content subscriptions than it does from advertising.

"We make more money from our content than from advertising which is a really interesting shift – we are pushing boundaries in terms of how we are getting our content into these different services and platforms."

Meanwhile, he also warned publishers not to forget the importance of meta data. "Everyone forgets about meta data. They think they can just make stuff and then forget about how it is organised in terms of how you describe your content. But all your assets are useless to you unless you have meta data – your archive is full of stuff that is of no value because you can’t find it and don’t know what it’s about," he said.

A more in-depth interview with O'Donovan on the FT's transformation strategy will be published on The Drum shortly.


26 Feb 2014 - 13:52
Nedne97651's picture

I have a lot of respect for what the FT did to the leap away from the authentication hassles of a iTunes/google play stores, going html5 authenticated web app. From a business, development hassle, expense and consumer standpoint it just makes sense.

I am not a fan of a one trick publishing solution a la the promise of responsive or the mobile first concept. Albeit more expensive, specific designs and implementation for specific devices (3) makes sense to me. My approach is "consumer device first." A shorter page for phones with lower rez images, swippable horizontal pages (non vertical scrolling pages) for tablet web and the standard web desktop page (maybe a bit shorter) can live on. With good content to begin with this is the way to build user loyalty and fulfill what people expect- a quality experience- brand everywhere.

I look forward to reading the entire interview.

27 Feb 2014 - 20:02
SchwartzTX's picture

I disagree. Mobile-first is not meaningless. Remember, it's mobile first, not mobile only. If an organization takes a mobile-first approach and then fails to execute the next steps with larger devices and their inherent capabilities, then that's a failure of project and product managers in executing, not a failure in planning using a mobile-first strategy.

By the way, the favicon on this page right now is the Drupal logo. Perhaps the universal publishing strategy should including ensuring the correct favicon for the organization, not its CMS platform, is displayed to users.

27 Feb 2014 - 23:19

Depends on what needs to be accomplished. Some work purely as mobile first. News Mute ( http://NewsMute.com ) and Feedly are better off mobile first.

2 Mar 2014 - 15:36
pcvin11166's picture

Article means well I think but seems to contradict itself with "Focusing too much on one thing can lead to being obsessed with the things mobile can do – such as responsive sites."

Responsive sites that adapt to every device are the perfect low cost solution for a multi-platform strategy. Also - 'mobile' isn't doing responsive sites - HTML5 & CSS is.

4 Mar 2014 - 21:15

Hi all, appreciate your comments and I don't disagree with them but thought worth explaining some more about what is driving us @FT.

The term “Mobile-first” can easily become another detour to our goals, which for us is about how we want to create, manage and expose our services in as many ways and places as we can. This could be on a desktop or mobile platform, or it could be through syndication to our customers via Flipboard or B2B services.

If you focus just on “Mobile-first” it starts to get people thinking about mobile but it tends to focus on the presentation and being responsive, as if that in itself is an end game. When you take a step back and think about what is required to have your services everywhere, supporting platforms we have now and ones to come, we are thinking about APIs and how to package content and expose it in ways that will be more resilient to change.

That's why we are thinking about Universal Publishing, to think further back up the chain which allows us to have deeper discussion about how we make things and expose them, not just how we present them. I'll maybe share the deck I presented which covers more ground…



Please sign in or register to comment on this article.

Latest Projects from the Profile Hub

A Facebook community for Jamaica Ginger Cake

McVitie’s Jamaica Ginger Cake is one of the nation’s best...

Orchid - Luxury interiors with an oriental soul

Orchid is a retailer specialising in exceptional furniture...

Simplicity at the core of banking

Banking’s a pretty complex offering: a world of options to...

CALA Homes Group: Building a digital home with style & function

Why. CALA is a leader in the housebuilding industry, but...

Tunisia Tourist Figures & Media Coverage Revitalised in 2014

2014 was a positive year for Tunisia as continued political...