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Publishers see challenges with responsive design

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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerburg aired his frustration with Web apps and responsive design last month at the TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2012 conference, saying that the social network's biggest mistake had been “betting too much on HTML5.” But the tech giant hasn't completely written off the technology, and it's a wager that many content providers are moving forward with. A mobile Web solution that recognizes a user's device and adjusts content to fit its interface has an obvious upside—a create-once-and-deploy-everywhere advantage that would cut both development time and cost, while also pulling apps out of proprietary stores that skim revenue. Moreover, publishers would no longer need to try to predict which mobile devices an audience might use to access content, or release updated apps every time a screen is resized. “We're not in the business of chasing after the iPhone, the iPad and the iPad Mini,” said Rizwan Ali, innovation director at Hanley Wood. At the same time, however, the company is waiting to invest in responsive design. The HTML5 tools that are making responsive design possible are still maturing, he said, and are not yet delivering a consistent user experience. “Everyone is hopeful. We're waiting to see which way the wind blows.” Conversations with publishing executives reveal challenges regarding compatibility with content management systems, legacy content and automated work flows. Hanley Wood currently offers native apps for events and other feature-rich elements, while also developing magazine mobile sites that are optimized for smartphone, tablet and desktop screens. “We design for the three sets,” Ali said. “We are not developing for each phone type.” To move forward with responsive design, the company would need to overhaul its websites and invest in infrastructure. “Hanley Wood has grown through mergers and acquisitions,” he said. “Not all of our sites are on the same content management system.” Aaron Jones, CTO of IDG Consumer and SMB, just went through that process. The division of International Data Group developed a new CMS and then rolled out new websites in September. “We tried to enforce within our CMS that HTML5 is our core storage,” Jones said. “We can push it out to any device without heavy translation, and it will render well. We also separate the core data from how it presents. If the data is clean underneath, you can write it out as [feeds including] HTML, which is the feed to open Web, mobile and desktop.” The new CMS is flexible and shares content across all platforms, including the mobile Web, and an array of native apps that the company will continue to offer. The division has made other adjustments, for example, bundling images so the system can accommodate retina screens without overwhelming traditional devices. Cygnus Business Media is looking at releasing its first responsive design Web app before the end of the year, said Sharon Wright, VP-digital operations. The company currently uses HTML5 in conjunction with Adobe's Digital Publishing Suite to develop rich media content for native iPad apps that augment the print and Web offerings of brands like Firehouse and EMS World. The iPad apps, developed by an independent three-member team, do not duplicate content available through the other media and incorporate such features as interactive graphs, video and audio clips. “There is no templating at this point,” Wright said. “When we look at doing the digital version of our magazine in this manner, we are looking at moving production over to our print graphics folks so we can take InDesign files and automatically suck that into the application. That can be done in a matter of minutes rather than hours as we're doing with this custom.”
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