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Mobile World Congress

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


By Jessica Davies, News Editor

February 26, 2014 | 3 min read

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.

Mobile World Congress

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