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Should government web sites be required to have mobile-friendly versions?

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Posted by ronan - 02 Nov 2007
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Last week we put together a site that advised on the current status of the fires burning in California (, read more about it here). We did this partially because we thought it might be useful to people, but also because we think it can serve as an example for other public advisory sites in general.

This got me thinking about the broader issue of making information available to the public: should all government / semi-state bodies be required to create mobile-friendly versions of their web sites? Some governments have already taken a position on making their web content available to disabled people by mandating accessibility standards for their websites. As an example, the UK government has proposed that in the name of "inclusive e-government" all government websites must meet Level Double-A of the W3C WCAG guidelines by December 2008. In the USA, Section 508 was enacted to give "disabled employees and members of the public access to information that is comparable to the access available to others".

So why not take accessibility one step further? If the guiding principle of accessibility is inclusiveness then surely a great next step is to broaden the classes of device that the information can be viewed on. It seems clear that having mobile-friendly versions of government sites will make the information more freely available to more people—not everyone has a PC after all. For the particular case of public advisory sites this seems particularly relevant—in times of disaster/emergencies it is particularly important that information is available as many ways as possible.

Note: there is already some relevant work going on in the W3C, in two separate areas:



Posted by ronan - 02 Nov 2007

ronan's picture

« m o b i l i s t , CTO of dotMobi » @xbs

Posted by alertsusa 8 years ago

Great subject.

My personal take on this is that mobile devices, due to their limited display dimensions, will make this a formidable challenge and literally impossible to implement.

Most government websites are outlets for significant quantities of alphanumeric information. Press releases, briefing transcripts, guidance, white papers, lists, and other types of information resources. Then there are the charts, graphs and diagrams that are often needed to effectively articulate the contents therein.

FEW government websites have interactive features, aside from signing up for mailing lists, applying for certain benefits, etc...

To mandate that ALL government websites make their web content mobile-ready would be a monstrous undertaking with massive expense. This, given the diversity of information to be communicated, the need to review and reduce the content to the bare necessities, reformat it all and make it available across a constantly changing list of devices.

Considering that there is a news story out just today indicating that nearly 80% of U.S. adults have access to the net, I cannot fathom many government services, accessible to the public, which are so crucial as to require accessibility within the mobile realm, aside from a basic presence.

With respect to public alerting, many government agencies already do this.

As for public safety, terrorism and homeland security, our firm, AlertsUSA, has been doing it for the past 6 years. In fact, most of the government agencies involved in public safety, terrorism and homeland security actually use the service.

- S

Steven Aukstakalnis AlertsUSA, Inc. 305.992.5944

Posted by ronan 8 years ago

Yes, it is definately a big challenge but I wasn't trying to suggest that *all* of the content should be accessible via mobile. Rather, there is a very useful subset of information that it would make sense to make available to mobiles users  -- the information that is useful in the mobile context. This doesn't mean stuff like PDFs, charts and diagrams, but the information that you might actually need to use on the move: addresses and phone numbers of offices, prescient alerts etc. Also, while in the USA it may be true to say that 80% of adults have access to the net (which presumably means desktop net access) this is by no means the case in countless other countries around the world. In fact, indications are that in some countries the trend is reversing (in favour of mobile access).

Ronan Cremin, dotMobi

Ronan Cremin, dotMobi