LexisNexis Academic To Release Interface Optimized for Mobile Web Browsers

As an update to my last post (“Apps vs. Mobile Web Optimized Interfaces for Search and Discovery”), I just want to make a quick note that LexisNexis has confirmed that their forcoming new mobile interface with LexisNexis Academic will be not be a dowloadable app but instead something that is designed to work in mobile web browsers.

I hope that they’ve designed it so that it automatically detects whether you’re using a browser on a phone and then redirects you to the optimized interface. Some of the database vendors that offer mobile browser interfaces require the library to set up a unique of URLs for the mobile versions, which means the number of links you have to maintain and provide to your user has doubled. As anyone who has tried to maintain electronic resources for a library knows, keeping on top of URL changes for those resources is a major time sink, as the links are usually spread across a wide number of pages on a library website.

Apps vs. Mobile Web Optimized Interfaces for Search and Discovery

I really wish the publishing companies, scholarly societies, and database vendors that are exclusively developing apps for mobile devices would rethink their preference for apps over interfaces that are optimized to work on mobile web browsers. Ever since Apple launched its app store on iTunes, web developers have been debating whether it is preferable to do a mobile web optimized site or instead release an app. Now that the vendors that libraries rely on for databases have earnestly entered the world of mobile design, there seems to be a lack of uniformity of opinion about the best way to proceed. Some companies have only released apps:

Others have only done interfaces that are slimmed down enough to work comfortably within a mobile web browser:

Some have hedged their bets and offer both apps and mobile web interfaces:

Some notable vendors have yet to release their mobile service yet. LexisNexis Academic will have a mobile interface this summer, though I’m still not clear if it’s an app or a mobile browser interface. ProQuest’s new platform for it’s databases is supposed to have mobile browser interface, but I haven’t seen it yet (I’m not sure if it hasn’t been released yet or if it requires you to switch over to the new platform, which we haven’t yet done in my library). Having tried most of the apps and web interfaces for the products above and having thought about how my library will promote them to our students, I’ve come to the conclusion that for the moment, the mobile web experience is superior to the app one. Here are the reasons why I’m not a fan of the apps I’ve seen.

  • Apps have to be downloaded. The user who wants to find something has to first take the extra step of installing an app.
  • Apps have to be updated. I don’t know if the apps that the library vendors will provide will require as frequent updates as the other apps on my phone, but even having to do it at all is an extra annoying step for our users to periodically follow.
  • Clunky authentication. Users have to do things like fill out a form with their app and get an email back from the vendor with a special code to be entered into the app. Other apps have to be “paired” up while the user is on the library’s or college’s network.
  • Idiosyncratic authentication. It’s hard enough getting our users to enter some sort of user name/password combination for most of our databases they access via regular web browsers, but at least it is a consistent experience. With apps, we’re expecting our users to get used to a variety of authentication schemes that vary from app to app. Furthermore, each app requires you to authenticate. If you use a browser to visit library databases (on a regular browser or a web one), you authenticate once that session and use as many databases as you want without having to re-authenticate each time you try a difference resource.
  • Apps take up space. Our library has huge ecosystem of databases. Do we really expect our users will want to use up valuable screen real estate and space in the phone’s memory with all the databases they may need?
  • Eclipse other databases. It’s already challenging enough to get users to recall that there are more databases than the ones with the easy-to-recall brand names (JSTOR, LexisNexis). A user who has downloaded a database app or two is going to be less likely to recall that there may be other, possibly more relevant, database options for mobile search. If you are looking at mobile optimized web page listing all the library’s mobile-friendly databases (perhaps sorted by subject, by title, etc.), there’s a greater chance they’ll use a wider variety of databases than if they’d downloaded an app or two.
  • App names often differ from regular web versions. Why should we add to the mental burden of our users by asking them to recall that what we call IEEE Computer Society Digital Library (an ungodly name to begin with) is the same as IEEE Xplore Mobile Digital Library (the former is the regular web version and the latter is the mobile app version)? Or expect them to know that buried in the sprawling app from Gale called Access My Library are the mobile versions of Business & Company Resource Center, Gale Virtual Reference Library, and more?
  • No link resolvers. I didn’t see any link resolvers in the apps. Admittedly, it’s not clear to me whether the link resolver we use (SFX) works properly in the mobile browsers I’ve used. Assuming that link resolvers can be made to work in the browser, I like that we can recreate the ecoystem of databases and link resolution that we have on the regular web. I don’t see how that ecosystem can be easily recreated in a world of mobile apps for each database.
  • Libraries can’t customize apps. The admin options that libraries are given to tinker with the look and feel of their web-based databases are not available with the app versions of databases.
  • Vendors don’t offer apps for all mobile operating systems. Very few apps come in versions for all the major mobile operating systems: iOS (for iPhones and iPod Touches), Android, and Blackberry.
  • Developing apps is expensive. The wish list of things I would like database vendors to fix or improve is lengthy. Spending precious time and money to develop apps is not at the top of my list. The cheaper and, in my mind, better option, is to develop for mobile web browsers first, as that lets vendors get their products onto a wider range of mobile device more quickly than if they were to take the time to develop apps for each of the mobile OSes.

I recognize that the vendors, publishers, and scholarly societies are just dipping their toes into the world of mobile services. I hope, though, that they don’t get carried away with apps and can recognize the limitations that those apps have right now.

Mobile Friendly Databases

Today, I’ll be giving a short presentation to colleagues from other libraries in the City University of New York that will focus on the topic of databases that have mobile friendly interfaces. I decided against using slides and am instead going to distribute this handout with the outline of my presentation.

Mobile Databases Presentation LACUNY 12 May 2011

Inexpensive Event in NYC on Mobile Services and Libraries

In a few weeks, I’ll be one of four presenters at an event here in New York City on mobile services and libraries. If you are a member of the Library Association of the City University of New York (LACUNY), the event is free; otherwise it’s just $5. Here’s the announcement going out on various lists:

The Pocket Library: Trends in Mobile User Services
Thursday, May 12th
1:30pm – 4:00pm
CUNY Graduate Center, Rm C197

Please join the LACUNY Emerging Technologies Committee for a series of presentations on the use of mobile technologies in the delivery of library services. CUNY librarians will discuss challenges and opportunities related to the design, implementation, assessment, and promotion of mobile library services.

Light refreshments will be served. Admission is free for LACUNY members. Non-members pay a $5.00 admission fee at the door or online via PayPal. Space is limited so please register by May 6th to reserve your seat.

Register online at: http://lacuny.org/committees-and-roundtables/committees/emerging-technologies

Hunter College Libraries Mobile Web Project
Danielle Becker, Web Librarian, Hunter College
Discover what went into creating the Hunter College Libraries mobile web site. Hear about their mobile strategy and what their next steps are in their ongoing mobile development process.

Mobile Friendly Databases
Stephen Francoeur, Information Services Librarian, Baruch College
This presentation will examine the trend of databases that have web interfaces optimized for mobile devices or mobile apps. The usefulness and viability of these mobile solutions for databases will be explored, as will strategies for connecting your library’s users to these resources.

Mobile Information Literacy: Let’s Use an App for That!
Stefanie Havelka, Electronic Resources-Web Services Librarian, Lehman College
Alevtina Verbovetskaya, Instructional Technologies Librarian, Lehman College
Accessing data and information via apps and mobile websites has become the norm. To better serve our students and faculty, we as librarians need to keep abreast in the field of emerging technologies. We need to be able to identify authoritative apps and recommend free & paid apps to our patrons. We also need to teach our users how to be information literate on the go.

Using QR Codes to Link Real & Virtual Library Space
Joseph Deodato, Web Services Librarian, College of Staten Island
QR codes are two-dimensional barcodes that can be used to send text, audio, video, and other digital media to a user’s smartphone. Learn how QR codes can be used to deliver point of need services and link physical and virtual library space. Uses, benefits, and considerations for implementation will be discussed.