Publishers Love Responsive Design, But There Are Imperfections

Internet Week panel focuses on new world of cross device publishing

Publishers are in love with responsive design. But every new relationship has its challenges.

That was evident on Tuesday at an Internet Week panel focused on how design impacts the newsroom, as a collection of forward-thinking Web publishers debated the power of video in mobile, the value of old school text articles and whether the home page even matters anymore.

Larry Kramer, president and publisher of USA Today, which has rebuilt its website using responsive design techniques, said the form allows for more rapid publishing. But producing a single site for multiple devices also has limitations. "It is also kind of a short cut that I'm not totally in love with. Each of these platforms have different characteristics," Kramer said, adding that a panoramic video designed to be played on a large television set doesn't scale particularly well to a cell phone.

Last year, Mashable declared 2013 the year of responsive design. That declaration makes sense, considering that Mashable has fully embraced responsive design, in large part because of the growth of mobile. Adam Ostrow, the site's chief strategy officer, noted that one-third of Mashable's traffic comes from mobile devices, he said, so it's key to ensure the reading experience is maintained across multiple devices. "We've found that super effective both for our reporters and our storytelling, but also for our readers and how they can engage with the site," Ostrow said.

The panel's moderator, Forbes media reporter Jeff Bercovici, also touched on terminology, reminding the panel that Jeff Jarvis has declared the article form dead. So 'what is the article in 2013?,' Bercovici asked.

It depends how you define it, said Quartz editor-in-chief Kevin Delaney. The method of creating a traditional 750-word article, and running it through various production departments, has been "exploded," Delaney said, and today the most successful articles are on either quite short or quite long.

"But I'm not sure it's useful to force ourselves to come up with another word besides article," he added. "What would it be? Unit of content, or something incredibly bland and generic."

The article is now the point of entry to a publication for many readers, several panelists agreed. Ostrow said a whopping 80 percent of Mashable's traffic comes in to article pages. With its responsive design, Mashable uses infinite scrolling, meaning at the end of one article, more relevant content appears. (Quartz employs a similar technique.)

"We've really turned article pages essentially into what used to be considered a homepage," Ostrow added. "It's a way for people to discover lots and lots of content that's relevant to them."

So if the article is the homepage, 'what is the homepage?,' Bercovici asked.

"It defines the brand," Ostrow said. 

Watch the full panel: