A new report, Culture on the Go, from UK web-watchers CIBER Research
, shows how access to information is changing as people search for, read and use information on the move. A growing proportion of web browsing happens on smartphones like the new Mac iPhone 4S and tablets like the iPad, and no longer on PCs and laptops in homes and offices. This shift will have a radical impact on the design and functionality of websites, and will inevitably reflect back to the desktop screen itself.
Professor David Nicholas of CIBER said, "We are seeing a transformation of behaviour. We know that the mobile device will soon be the dominant platform for searching the Web and yet right now we know virtually nothing about how people seek, read and use information via these devices. The CIBER group are cyberspace voyeurs - weve analysed tens of thousands of visits and are making sense of these digital footprints to give us an understanding of behaviour in the virtual space."
The CIBER group has developed a bespoke deep log analysis technique for monitoring behaviours online. The group conducted their research for Europeana, Europes cultural heritage portal, to look at how it should be developing its information services for the Google Generation.
The report sets out to show how people search the Web via mobile devices and compares this with use of the same platform by PC and laptop users. The data was collected for visitors to Europeana.eu using deep log analysis and data mining techniques during 2010 - 2011. The main findings were that visits from users on the go are very different in the aggregate to those from fixed platforms. Visits are typically shorter, less interactive, and less content is viewed per visit. The variation between different mobile devices is huge, with information seeking on smartphones substantially different from that associated with PCs and laptops, whereas from iPads the behaviour tends more towards PC-based browsing.
Most websites have been designed for access from a PC or laptop, and accessing the Web via a mobile device is quite a different experience. Many websites from the cultural heritage sector are attracting a new demographic that includes more digital natives. This, coupled with the fact that people are used to paying for content via mobile devices, heralds a transformation in the way cultural web services will be delivered.
Jill Cousins, Executive Director of Europeana said, "We were prescient in designing a Europeana lite interface for users with mobile phones three years ago. However, the mobile screen is too small to get a good experience of the great books and paintings on Europeana. Tablet devices like the iPad give high-resolution display with enough screen estate to explore your favourite pictures. This report shows us that we must speed up our development for new mobile and tablet interfaces."
Culture on the Go also reported on the countries showing the heaviest mobile use of Europeana, and showed France led Europe with over 23% of mobile use. The study also shows that typically, Europeana users look at material from their own country, but that interest in other cultures varies by country and can be tracked. CIBERs techniques have also been used to study each countrys take-up of mobile devices, and points to a greater democratisation of online access than was possible using fixed platforms.