FIR On Technology, Episode 4 - How To Make Your Website Mobile-Friendly

FIR On Technology logoHow do you make your website “mobile-friendly”? Given Google’s impending April 21, 2015, deadline to start using mobile-friendliness as a ranking factor for mobile search results, what can you do both in the short-term and in the longer-term to both provide the best experience for mobile users - and also retain your Google search result ranking?

In this fourth episode of “FIR On Technology” Dan York explains what you need to be thinking about with regard to “responsive design” of your website, outlines some of the resources Google offers to help, and explains several of the options you have to make your site mobile-friendly.  During the episode Dan discusses the following sites:

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The music for the intro and outro is “Early Warning” from Mark Knox and is used with his permission.

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NOTE: This podcast announcement was originally posted on the For Immediate Release (FIR) website.


Google Says Make Your Site Mobile-Friendly By April 21 - Or Drop In Search Results

Mobile friendly testIs your website "mobile-friendly"? Does it display nicely on a mobile device such as an iPhone, iPad, Android or other smart phone? If not, you have until April 21 to make it mobile-friendly... or you will suffer a drop in Google search results!

In a February 26 post on Google's Webmaster Central Blog, Google very clearly indicated their direction (my emphasis added):

Starting April 21, we will be expanding our use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal. This change will affect mobile searches in all languages worldwide and will have a significant impact in our search results. Consequently, users will find it easier to get relevant, high quality search results that are optimized for their devices.

Google does not often clearly state what signals it uses for ranking search results... but here they are.

Get "mobile-friendly" ... or drop in search ranking for mobile searches!

This last point is important - they say the mobile-friendly status will be used as a ranking status for mobile searches. I interpret this to mean that if your site is not mobile-friendly you might still rank highly in searches from regular computers/laptops/desktops, but your ranking would decrease in searches from mobile devices.

However, given how many people are now using mobile devices to access the Internet... and how that trend continues to increase over time... NOT having a mobile-friendly site is going to impact people being able to get to your site.

UPDATE: I also recorded an audio podcast, "FIR On Technology, Episode 4 - How To Make Your Website Mobile-Friendly" about this topic. More information and links can be found on that page.

Tools To Help

To help with the transition to a mobile-friendly web, Google has provided several tools. First, they have a "Mobile-Friendly Test" tool at:

https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/mobile-friendly/

It will analyze your site and tell you if you are "mobile-friendly" in Google's view (which is presumably what they will use in the ranking signals).

Second, Google has a guide to creating mobile-friendly websites at:

https://developers.google.com/webmasters/mobile-sites/get-started/

A key section here is:

where they explain options you have to make your site mobile-friendly.

Moving To A New Theme

In some cases, such as this Disruptive Conversations site that is still hosted on TypePad, my only choice is to move to a new "theme" that uses "responsive design". I've already done this with danyork.com, but haven't yet done that here (but I will before April 21). This can be a larger process if you want to continue to use your existing style and design.

With other content management systems (CMSs) such as WordPress, Drupal and Joomla, you can also move to mobile-friendly themes as there are many available. When I've been creating new sites on WordPress in the past year or two I've made sure that all the themes I've been using have had "responsive design" as one of their attributes.

Using A Plugin

With some of the CMSs, there may be plugins that can help you make your site mobile-friendly without changing the theme. For instance, with WordPress, there are two that I've used to make sites mobile-friendly:

Both of those plugins essentially provide a responsive-design theme that gets used for your site when a mobile device connects to your site. You may not have all the design capabilities that you would have in having your main theme be responsive (in terms of having the mobile theme look like your main theme), but these plugins provide a quick way to get your site to be "mobile-friendly".

Other CMSs may have similar plugins, modules or extensions - you need to check with your CMS. Google's guide has links to help you get started.

Other Options

If you don't use a CMS or your CMS doesn't offer mobile-friendly themes or plugins... well... you may want to consider moving to a CMS that offers such capabilities (although that can be a huge task). Or you can read up on the principles of "responsive design" and see what you can apply to your website.

Getting To A Mobile-Friendly Web

The end result out of all of this will be a mobile-friendly web... and as all the millions and billions of new users come on to the Internet odds are pretty good that they will be using mobile devices, so the good news is that your content will be readily accessible on all those devices.

The bad news is that you may have some work to do between now and April 21 if you haven't already made your site mobile-friendly. (Well, assuming you care about ranking highly in Google search results - but if you are reading this site you probably do!)

If you've needed a deadline to make this happen... here it is!

Get mobile-friendly by April 21... or watch your Google search ranking drop!


An audio commentary on this topic is available:


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Lesson Learned The Hard Way - Google+ Hangouts On Air (HOA) Have A Maximum Time Limit of 4 Hours

I learned a hard lesson today that Google+ Hangouts On Air (HOA) are limited to 4 hours in length.
UPDATE, Nov 2014: Google has now raised the time limit to 8 hours. On Google's HOA support page, it now says:
For how long can I broadcast a Hangout On Air?

You can host a Hangout On Air for up to 8 hours, and the recording will be the same length as your broadcast.
Thank you to Jacob Share for leaving a comment with this news.

Today when we were live streaming our five-hour ION Krakow conference out of Poland using a Google+ Hangout On Air (HOA) everything was going along fine. (It was, indeed, working over IPv6!) People were watching on both our Google+ page as well as our YouTube channel. All was fine.

Then, all of a sudden... it stopped. No warning. Nothing. I didn't even notice that the red "Broadcasting" button was gone from the G+ HOA window.

Someone pinged us on Twitter to let us know the stream was down... and sure enough, the HOA had stopped broadcasting... right in the middle of one of our panel sessions!

I had to quickly exit that HOA and then relaunch a new HOA, which resulted in a new HOA for people to join on our Google+ page... and then pointing people to a YouTube URL with our channel name ending in "/live" to get our live stream (in our case, http://www.youtube.com/user/depoy360/live).

What Happened?

Why did the Google+ Hangout On Air just quit broadcasting on us?

Gplus hoa four hoursI didn't have a definite answer... but if you look at the first YouTube recording of our ION Krakow event, you'll notice the interesting time amount that I'm highlighting in the image to the right.

Yep... 3:59:59!

So I was thinking either:

  1. Google+ Hangouts On Air have a 4 hour maximum; or
  2. there was some kind of software or network glitch conveniently at the 4 hour time mark. (And unicorns might be grazing in my back yard when I get back from my trip, too.)

I searched online tonight and couldn't find any reference to a time limit. I saw nothing in the Google+ HOA FAQ or even in the HOA Terms of Service. I looked through the Google+ HOA Technical Guide, too, and found again nothing there.

The Answer (Maybe?)

Then I wound up searching Google's Support site with the phrase "hangouts on air maximum time" and... ta da... there was an answer in Google's product forums from May 2012 that said:

the time limit for Hangouts On Air is 4 hours. At 4 hours, the broadcast will automatically stop.

which is exactly the experience we had today. There was also another answer in a product forum from December 2012 that said:

Hangouts On Air can last up to 4 hours. You’ll receive a warning when you have 1 hour remaining, and then subsequent warnings as you approach the 4 hour limit.

If there were any warnings, I have no idea where they went to. I certainly don't remember seeing any warnings! It just stopped.

What was worse what that the Google+ HOA window stopped broadcasting but still continued to show the video stream as per usual - so when I was just glancing at the window it all looked fine. I didn't notice that the big red button was missing.

Thankfully for me...

Now... being the paranoid type, I was recording the video out of Wirecast onto my local hard drive at the same time I was sending it to Google+ HOA, so I do now have a copy of the video of the several minutes in the middle of our panel that didn't get streamed. But:

  • It was a poor user experience for anyone watching to just have it stop.
  • We now have two video segments instead of one big one. (although that's not necessarily a bad thing... I just would have liked to break the segment at a break in the panels)
  • This means additional post-production work to stitch it all together.
  • We had no warning.

This last point is perhaps the biggest annoyance... if we had known there was a four-hour limit, we could have planned for that. We could have stopped and restarted in one of the breaks, for instance. We just didn't want to do that because then it means viewers have to start watching a new video stream, and we thought that some number of users might miss that they had to start watching a new stream.

We wanted the viewer experience to be as simple and painless as possible.

So consider this a warning for you all... should you decide to try using Google+ Hangouts On Air to live stream sessions longer than 4 hours, well, you need to first have some plan to break the HOA into smaller segments!

P.S. And yes, if you listen to our ION Krakow recording on YouTube, the first 1 hour and 45 minutes have terrible audio quality... but that will be the subject for a post tomorrow. Essentially, I missed that HOA had a separate setting for bringing in the audio from our camera (which was supplied by the A/V mixing board) and so I was using audio from my laptop's mic. :-( Thankfully: 1) we fixed it; and 2) I was running a backup audio recorder pulling an aux feed from the house mixer so I can bring that audio back in from that separate recorder.

P.P.S. I'll also be putting up a blog post in the next few days about how we successfully did do this live video streaming over IPv6.


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SoundCloud Rolls Out Auto-Sharing To Google+

Soundcloud iosYesterday SoundCloud released a new version 2.6 of their iOS app that for the first time allows sharing to Google+. This is rather intriguing because right now very few applications are able to share directly into Google+. Google has very tightly controlled access to their Google+ APIs to the dismay of many of us who want to more easily share the content we create into our Google+ accounts.

The new SoundCloud app for iOS provides the following new features related to Google+:

  1. The ability to login to SoundCloud with your Google+ credentials. This is only really useful to people who are new to SoundCloud as it simplifies the account creation process by letting you login with your Google+ ID.

  2. The ability to share sounds out to Google+ from within the iOS app.

  3. Automatic sharing of new sounds you create to your Google+ account.

The last one is the most interesting to me and the focus of what I'll write about here. I'll note, too, that according to multiple reports, including an article in TheNextWeb, the ability to login to SoundCloud via Google+ is also available in the Android SoundCloud app, although apparently the sharing is not there. The automatic sharing is centrally configured in SoundCloud's web interface and so may not have a dependence on the mobile app.

Automatic Sharing From SoundCloud To Google+

This is again the most important feature of the update to me. SoundCloud has for quite some time had the ability to automatically share any new sound you upload out to Twitter, Facebook (including Facebook Pages) and Tumblr. This new release adds Google+ to the mix.

You need to login to your SoundCloud account and go to Settings -> Connections. Once there you will see a new Google+ button: Sc connections

Selecting the button allows you to go through the standard Google+ process to authorize this application to connect to your Google+ account. Once you do that, you will see a new connection at the bottom of your list of connections: Sc googleplus

Somewhat bizarrely it doesn't use a Google+ icon but rather something that reminds me more of MySpace.

Similarly, over in the iOS app, after you save a recording and are getting ready to post the sound to SoundCloud, the "Sharing Options" now have a Google+ option at the top - but without any icon: Ios app sc 1 In theory, this should all allow the auto-publishing of links to new sounds out to your Google+.

Sounds Great... But Didn't Work :-(

So, after configuring all of this, I recorded a new episode 5 of my The Dan York Report on this topic... and it did NOT auto-post to Google+. When I was in Google+ there was a yellow message that appeared several times at the top of my screen that said something like:

"Oops... there was a problem posting "TYDR #005 ..." Retrying.

Unfortunately it appeared and disappeared too quickly to get a screenshot.

Manually Sharing From SoundCloud Web or iOS App

The good news is that the SoundCloud web also provides a mechanism to manually share a sound out to Google+. If you click on the Share icon on the page for a sound, you can select the Google+ tab: Soundcloud sharing and then write a message about the sound and choose who to share it with: Share on googleplus

Similarly, you can now do this sharing from within the iOS app itself: Ios app sharing

I'm showing these windows for sharing the sound I created, but this could be for ANY sound that you listen to within the SoundCloud app or web interface.

So What About That Auto-Sharing?

Why didn't my first episode after configuring Google+ integration auto-publish out to Google+? I don't know. I'm going to assume this was perhaps a "teething pain" as the folks at SoundCloud get this integration working.

Regardless, it's good to see this integration with Google+ happening (assuming it starts working) and more apps being able to connect into Google+.


An audio commentary about part of this announcement can be found at:


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Google Now Lets You Handwrite Search Queries On iPad, iPhone, Android

Google handwritingOkay, I admittedly find this pretty cool... you can now enter search queries into Google on a tablet or mobile phone just by writing anywhere on the screen!

As Google's blog post outlines, you need to go to www.google.com on your mobile device and then go into the Settings to configure this option. You do NOT need to sign in to Google. You just need to go there in your mobile web browser.

I've tested this on both my iPad and iPhone and found it worked quite well (per the blog post and Help Center page, it also works on Android phones and tablets - and is available in 27 languages). I find it particularly useful on the iPad where you have the larger screen to write on. On the iPhone, maybe my fingers are just too big but I found it tight to write in the regular portrait mode.

I did notice, though, that you can enter one or two letters, pause, then enter another letter or two... and as you do the search window is updated with what Google thinks the text should be as well as search query suggestions. So you may just be able to write a few letters and then tap the correct search suggestion.

Now, the question, of course, is WHY I find this interesting and the answer is that I have had some times when I'm in situations where it's not super easy to type nor do I want to be talking to my phone (i.e. using Siri). With the iPad, in particular, there are times I'm holding it while walking around at an event where typing with two hands would not be easy and voice usage isn't really possible. I could see this potentially being faster than hunt-and-peck typing a query using one hand. Will I use it all the time? No... but certainly I can see it being nice to have this option.

What's also interesting about this feature is that it requires you to go to "www.google.com". It doesn't work with the "search" box that is in the top of Mobile Safari in iOS. You need to go to Google's home page... so Google is pulling you out of using the app (Safari) and into using their web page. If you get used to doing that, Google can of course introduce other functionality - and if you are "signed in" you see your Google+ notifications and can easily access other Google services. Intriguing move by Google.

What do you think? Will you use this capability on your iPad, iPhone or Android device?

P.S. Alas, it is not as all-powerful as TechCrunch asserts with an ability to interpret cursive handwriting. I made several attempts at using cursive and found that in some cases the accuracy was "okay", but clearly not as good as block printing. In fact, Google's Tips for Handwrite very clearly state at the beginning that you should use block printing versus cursive.

And here is Google's video on the topic:


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My Report into For Immediate Release (FIR) Podcast #646

In this week's For Immediate Release episode #646, my report covered:

If you are a FIR subscriber, you should have the show now in iTunes or whatever you use to get the feed. If you aren't a subscriber, you can simply listen to the episode online now.


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And So Google Finally Announces the Formal Death of Google Wave in 2012...

And so at last comes the end of one of Google's most intriguing and useful collaboration platforms... Google Wave. Amidst the long list of services Google is killing off as part of its latest round of "spring cleaning" was this note about Wave:

  • Google Wave We announced that we’d stopped development on Google Wave over a year ago. But as of January 31, 2012, Wave will become read-only and you won’t be able to create new ones. On April 30 we will turn it off completely. You’ll be able to continue exporting individual waves using the existing PDF export feature until the Google Wave service is turned off. If you’d like to continue using this technology, there are a number of open-source projects, including Apache Wave and Walkaround.

I admit that from the start I was a big fan of Google Wave. I wrote about Wave a good bit here on this site and used it both personally and professionally. Wave's ability to allow real-time collaboration was really quite incredible, as I documented in this video about collaborative note-taking at a conference. In fact, I still use it weekly as Shel and Neville use Wave to plan the outlines for each For Immediate Release podcast - as a weekly correspondent I use the wave to see what else they are going to talk about to avoid overlapping or to build on what is being discussed elsewhere. They also get to see what I am going to be talking about in advance of me submitting my recording. It also provides an easy way for them to get the links for the show notes.

Plus, as an advocate for an "open Internet" where can control your own data, I loved the promise that the "Wave protocol" would allow for federation between Wave servers... that it would allow for the creation of a distributed and decentralized architecture for collaboration servers.

Sure, Google Wave had a user interface that was very "different" and took some getting used to. It definitely had some clunky aspects to it... and the massive hype around it led to outsized expectations that clearly could never be met.

And now, two years after Wave's launch, some of the features in Wave have migrated into other Google products. Google Docs has a real-time editing capability very similar to what worked so well in Wave. Google+ amusingly has the "play back" capability in its Ripples feature. There may be other features in other services I haven't noticed. It's clear that that work involved with Wave had an impact within Google.

Now it's left to open source projects like Apache Wave and Walkaround to carry on with what Google Wave started. It will be interesting to see what can be done... I'm certainly going to be exploring both projects in the time ahead.

Goodbye, Google Wave, 'twas nice knowing you...


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Google+ Expands Chat/IM To Your Circles - And Across All Google Services

Gplusicon
Google announced a few minutes ago that they are rolling out new capabilities to the chat services inside of Google+. When the expanded gets out to all users over the next 48 hours, you will be able to chat with someone as long as you both have each other in a "circle".[1] What I found more intriguing was this note:
When you and your contacts have each other in Circles, you'll be able to chat with them across Google properties such as Gmail, Google Plus, iGoogle, Orkut, and the Google Talk Client.

So your Google+ contacts will now be integrated very tightly with your Gmail and other contacts and you will be able to chat with them from whichever service you are in at the moment. Multiple interviews with folks at Google have said that Google+ was the path to further tie together the various Google services... and now we're seeing that in action.

More info here:

[1] i.e. you have added them to a circle and they have added you to a circle - it won't work if only one of you has added the other to a circle.


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Video: Google's Matt Cutts on "Cloaking" and Why It Is Bad

Matt Cutts at Google recently posted this useful video explaining what "cloaking" is ... and why it is bad for both the user experience and also for SEO / search engine results. He also explains how cloaking is different from providing distinct content for mobile audiences versus regular visitors.

I'll admit that I've never had enough interest in "gaming" Google to go to the desperate measure of this kind of cloaking... but obviously people are out there and doing it:


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Oops! Google's GMail iPhone/iPad/iOS App Pulled From AppStore

Well, Google's iPhone/iPad/iOS app was there for a little bit in Apple's AppStore... but now it's been pulled down because of "a bug that broke notifications". I did download the app a few hours ago to my iPhone and iPad and saw the errors mentioned in the blog post on both the iPhone:

Gmail iphone error

and the iPad:

Gmail ipad error

It's too bad, because in my initial usage, the app seems to work very well. Here's a shot of my inbox that looks like, well, pretty much any other email inbox:

Gmail ipad inbox

As Google's blog post indicates, the app has some cool features and use of gestures. I'll be using it for the next few days to see how it works.

Meanwhile, Google's team is obviously going off to make the notifications work!


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