Transcoding is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to optimize a website for mobile, but there's a catch…or five.
"It isn't just about making the Web you know today work on mobile phones. We are talking about innovation." - Tim Berners-Lee
There are plenty of solutions out there when it comes to optimizing a website for mobile. Transcoding (or screen-scrapping) is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to go, but there's a catch, or actually five, which we will discuss in this column.
Transcoding is the process of adapting existing web pages to provide a mobile experience that works across many devices. The solutions out there are fairly similar.
The pitch is a compelling one: the cost is low, the development time is short, it potentially reaches all devices out there, etc. The main selling point for transcoding is that businesses are not prepared to go mobile on their own (all previous software and infrastructure decisions have been made for the desktop websites).
Now let's look at why this might be another case of "too good to be true":
Challenge No. 1: The mobile solution will be tied to an existing website. This is limiting, as the mobile website will be a subset of the pages of the desktop website and the content or page structure of the desktop site is not necessarily the best structure for the mobile experience. Remember that mobile is not just a mobile website.
Challenge No. 2: Any proprietary technology will lock you in and it will make your mobile website effort a throwaway one once you're ready to manage mobile internally or more integrated with other platforms. There is usually no easy way for content and assets migration.
Challenge No. 3: Upfront cost is low but additional charges for changes will quickly add up and they are difficult to plan for. When the mobile website is tied to the desktop browser, lots of the changes on the website will trigger changes on the mobile side and, depending on the platform and contractual agreements, it will have additional costs. Be aware of this before making any commitments.
Challenge No. 4: User experience, aesthetics, and performance will be less than optimal. This is mainly because the intended breadth of reach forces the platform to cater to the lowest common denominator device. This is an important point to consider since in mobile the quality of the experience matters more than the quantity. For example: there is little business value to provide a mobile experience for feature phones when feature phone users don't use their devices to access the web and those devices don't have data plans.
Challenge No. 5: It will not move your organization forward. Transcoding is sometimes used as a temporary solution to have a mobile presence until a more robust solution can be built. But we all know temporary patches stay longer than they should. The future of interactive is not about building each channel one at a time, but to create a framework that will enable multi-channel experiences.
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Up until March 2012, Gabe Bertot was a mobile and multichannel leader at Moxie Interactive. Gabe holds a bachelor's degree in industrial design from the University of Havana, Cuba.
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