Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Thinking out loud: Building new HTML5 websites for tablets, is this really such a good idea?

I received a call from a consulting company yesterday that was to ask me some questions about digital media and repurposing content. As I usually do, I cautioned about the recurring mistake publishers make: thinking that an existing product that works well in print can be converted with little change to a digital product and have the same level of success – different platforms generally require different products.
In some ways, this is the thinking behind some of the new HTML5 based publishing solutions emerging now for the tablet. By taking a publisher's website and rather than building a native app one can use HTLM5 to build a new site that will be seen by readers on tablets. This new site will look and feel like a native app, but will be easy to build through an HTML5 solution.

Isn't this a good thing? A solution that avoids the trap of building a replica edition when the platform requires a new product? The problem here is that while you have indeed built a new product, you have also gotten rid of your established product – your branded website. For tablet users it completely disappears and becomes this new thing.

Slate, for instance, last week started using Onswipe's digital publishing solution to transform its website into a Flipboard looking site. The move was certainly interesting, but if you are a regular reader of Slate the move was a bit jarring. Today I see that the site is back to it normal look on the iPad, with only a link to the Onswipe driven site. (It may have been like this from the beginning, I really don't recall.)

For me, the idea of building a new digital publishing product using a solution such as Onswipe remains exciting – but rather than convert an existing website to the new format wouldn't it make more sense to build something new?

Unfortunately, it is very easy to see HTML5 as simply the next generation of the flipbook: another cheap and easy way to build a digital product without considering whether the solution is appropriate for what you are building. Just as adding Flash flipbooks of your print magazine online has proven a dead end, so will creating touch capable websites – its a solution searching for a problem. As an iPad owner I can tell you that I have no problem surfing the web on my tablet, despite a lack of Flash. The real problem that needs to be addressed is how do I create a magazine or newspaper product that can be read on tablets?

Luckily, the way to work through this is simply to consider your new HTML5 based product as something new, not something that replaces your website. If the new touch capable Slate product was called Slate Magazine then you are closer to the way I think this can all work.