Josh Keller’s recent article in the Chronicle, As the Web goes mobile, colleges fail to keep up, as the title indicates, focuses on college campuses. But it’s message also applies well to libraries, as I’ve discussed before. Around the same time I saw the Chronicle article, I came across the graphic on the left that seems to capture the same ideas in a picture – Together with the chart on the right, from the Chronicle article, the message is clear – “The mobile wave is coming fast, don’t get washed away.” Here are Keller’s words:

Hand-held devices like smartphones and tablets are fast becoming the primary way many people use the Internet. Half of all college students used mobile gear to get on the Internet every day last year, compared with 10 percent of students in 2008, according to Educause, the educational-technology consortium.

But many colleges still treat their mobile Web sites as low-stakes experiments. That attitude risks losing prospective applicants and donors through admissions and alumni portals that don’t work, and it risks frustrating current students who want to manage coursework and the rest of their lives with their mobile phones, says David R. Morton, director of mobile communications at the University of Washington. “For so many institutions,” he says, “mobile is a part-time job, almost an afterthought.”

One key to these projects is recognizing the mobility of mobile devices, and not treating them as if they were small desktop computers. Among colleges, even the leading mobile applications and Web sites still function like add-ons; students and others can get much the same information on a personal computer, although perhaps not as quickly.

But many college officials say that will change within a few years. As more people adopt Internet-enabled mobile phones, colleges will be able to take advantage of features like the ability to record information on the fly or to determine somebody else’s location.

Colleges often do not realize how far their Web services have fallen behind what students are used to, says Kayvon Beykpour, of Blackboard. The Stanford graduate recalls that signing up for courses online was so difficult that it was a “running joke” in the computer-science department. “Students are using Facebook, Gmail, Twitter, all these Web 2.0 systems every day,” Mr. Beykpour says. “It’s like their top five Web sites they use. And the sixth Web site is the school Web site, because you have to use it. And that’s where the biggest disconnect is.”

Another recent thread speaks to the problem of trying to keep up with the mobile wave — In a talk making the rounds on Twitter, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt says put your best people on mobile — A pretty strong indication that Google et al are scooping up all the mobile programmers they can find, which means that inevitably it’s going to be hard for us in academia to compete. So for the time being, we’ll probably need to rely on the sorts of third-party solutions discussed in the Chronicle article, like Blackboard and iMobileU.

For me, a key to understanding the deep infrastructure of mobile has been learning about WebKit, the underlying technology of all mobile browsers, including Safari, Chrome, and Android. Read more in my earlier article: The Mobile Revolution & the WebKit Revolution.

Mobile wave graphic credit: http://ssb.mofusepremium.com/blog/the-mobile-web/the-mobile-browser-is-the-killer-app

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

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