The changing way we get online (and what it means for public services)

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The idea that mobile web browsing is transforming the way we consume content should be perfectly obvious when my 5 year old hacks the ipad code and downloads a new version of plants vs zombies in the time it takes to go to the toilet.

A few things I’ve read this week coupled with our own experience online has convinced me of a major shift in the way people are using and accessing the web.

That’s probably not huge news to anyone but for me the most surprising thing is the speed at which this change is happening.

Stephen Johnson (@jonk87) wrote a piece called “Desktop browsing will be dead by 2015” on his blog last week (see here) and that really struck a chord with me and what it means for communicators.

You just need to look around any train carriage or public building to appreciate the explosion in tablets and smartphones, which are having a revolutionising impact on browsing habits.

Christmas saw a boom in new tablet users with BBC iPlayer reporting a double in programme requests, from 21m in November to 40m in January (Guardian media).

We’re seeing a significant change in behaviour in the way people are accessing services online and I don’t just mean those people who know all the latest memes and practically live inside the internet.

I’m talking about the everyday Joe who wants to report a pothole, check their child’s school holiday dates or put in a planning application.

Like many others we’d tried to cater for this a couple of years ago by creating an app that could be downloaded to the iphone or ipad, covering a number of key services.

However just looking at our statistics for January (which coincided with the arrival of snow) visitors to the website were up 64% and online transactions increased by 310% compared to January last year.

This time around 50% of visitors used a smartphone or tablet. That’s a staggering increase on previous months and marks an incredible shift in what is essentially a non-destination website in a predominantly rural part of the country.

The government has also noticed this major change in how people are using digital services and has pioneered responsive design in the public sector (you can read about that here).

Like them, we’ve now moved away from our original app and incorporated responsive design which is the only realistic and scalable way to meet customer demand, cover all platforms and make sure users get to the right place.

We’re only part of the way through that process but our initial pilot with pest control has given us enough reason to think this is the way to go.

9 thoughts on “The changing way we get online (and what it means for public services)

  1. Hi Ross,
    A really good point.
    I was a an event recently about responsive design for WordPress where someone pointed out how difficult it was to access some NHS sites from a smart phone. In the room we has someone who had deigned built a site that did the job.
    It prompted me to write this:
    The shorter version for the WordPress Users Wales site is here. Learning points from Going Responsive
    As you say, this is a huge challenge for public services (and others).
    Great post,


  2. Hi Ross, thanks for sharing, it’s interesting to hear how you went down this route instead. Something I have been wondering is do people use an app on a mobile device because it is easier that searching the Internet on a mobile device, I know that I tend to down load apps for a company rather than bookmark sites I visit frequently, and this might because the website isn’t responsive but it also involves less typing, more click options, which in tern makes it quicker. I’m also keen to know if people use mobile phones differently to tablets, something I suspect is true, and something which I think again might favour an app rather than a website. We’re just at the research stage so examples of those who have been there and tried it are really useful. Hope all good with you 🙂


    1. Hey Kate. For us it was more about costs & being scalable across formats. I’m sure there’s room for both but for us we’ve found the responsive mobile version much bigger in terms of numbers. Our site essentially works like an app on tablets & phones so gives us that flexibility as well. Would be good to see how this plays out elsewhere as well.


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