Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Durham...On The Go

Depending on how you look at the question, and the numbers vary widely, there are roughly 800,000 applications for mobile computing devices out there.  For visitation and tourism, there are apps that translate, calculate and locate for us; more still to suggest, plan and direct.  It's a mighty crowded pool to say the least.

So, if that's true then why jump in?  The folks at Durham's official marketing agency, the Durham Convention & Visitors Bureau (DCVB) pondered the question for quite a while before deciding how to answer the "to app, or not to app" question.

In the end, DCVB decided only to build a mobile version of their website and not an application.  It's why that's the interesting part.

"After reviewing many different application creation options - some solutions were off-the-shelf and others were custom-builds - we just never saw the union between cost and value to the end user," said Sam Poley, DCVB's marketing head.  Some of those custom options cost north of $100,000, the mobile site cost a fraction of that amount.

The mobile site works seamlessly for the user.  Those visiting Durham's official visitation website Durham-NC.com will be automatically redirected to Durham-NC.mobi.  (Curious readers can hit that link to view it on their desktop computers.) 

So just what is an app vs. a mobile site?

Applications for mobile computing devices are small programs that get installed on the device with pre-loaded data.  The program has the capacity of going to the internet and get information it needs to complete its function accurately.  For instance a tool that converts Fahrenheit temperature to Celsius - that conversion equation is always the same so the app has no need to go online to complete its task beyond what the user enters.  However, a weather app, needs to go to the web to collect current conditions to be accurate.

Mobile sites are versions of  websites designed to run on the small screens and processors of mobile devices like smart phones.  The sites themselves have all the website functions that a mobile user would need while on the go.  Mobile sites also require very little data use when compared their full version brethren.  To the visitor, this can be very valuable in terms of saved data use charges.  Visiting the two versions of Durham's site will easily demonstrate the difference.

But why not develop an application for a destination?  "Because the app would always be looking to our website," Poley says.  DCVB stores much of it's visitor product information on it's database - their websites (they have many), event calendar, and other vital functions run because of the database backbone maintained by the organization.  In Durham, unlike many destinations, stakeholders can add information to the database through a web-based portal called My Durham Info.  Therefore an app would be inefficient and potentially more costly for the end-user to view.

"We pride ourselves on having a really accurate and up-to-date presence online," says Poley. "Our database updates our website every 24 hours, so when a person looks for information on our site the results they get are pulled freshly from our database.  This sets the bar so high for information accuracy and currency that any app we could build or launch at this point would always be updating. The mobile site was absolutely the right move for us, and the visitor."

Many users think that an app is simply an icon on their devices screen. Conveniently, Apple users can easily create one very simply. Simply go to the mobile site, click on the small curved arrow at the bottom of the screen and then click "add to home screen."  The image above will show up on the screen of the device.  Similar options exist for other device platforms, too.

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