More Local News Sites

I’ve added several more local news sites to the /Home/News/US Local section of both the Wap Review Directory and to the YesWap portal. The directory contains all the wap site reviews organized by subject areas such as News, Sports, Entertainment or Technology. YesWap is a mobile portal containing links to all the sites in the directory arranged in the same subject area hierarchy for easy access on your mobile device.

Mobile local news sites are a great way to keep up with your hometown news while traveling or commuting.

Most of the sites in this review are published by local daily newspapers. It’s widely held that the Internet is slowly killing the print newspaper business, but personally I hope that the local news organizations can somehow find a way to survive. Internet news is dominated by big national and international names like Yahoo, CNN and the BBC. All of which have their own reporters and editors, who do a great job but whose focus is on national and international news. The local paper, on the other hand is all about local happenings, politics and sports – things that are of interest to a limited area.

Local news sites tend to be pretty similar in design. Most look like they were designed for use with Avantgo’s offline PDA browser back in the days when Palm PDAs had 160×160 px screens and thus are generally usable on modern phones. These sites typically have a front page consisting of links to separate pages each containing an individual news story. The news item pages are generally not split up into sections, so if your phone has a limited page buffer size you may want to run your favorite local news site through a proxy that splits up long pages such as AOL’s or Google’s. If you have a WAP1, wml-only phone, I’ve provided links to each site in this article and on the YesWap portal which use an html to wml transcoding proxy to convert html to wml and split long pages.

The new sites are:
Detroit Free Press
The Free Press has one of the better sites with about 30 items covering News, Sports, Editorials, Business and Entertainment. National and International stories appear at the top of the page, but plenty of local news follows. The site is basically a text-only version of the Free Press’ web site organized to be reasonably easy to navigate on a handheld device. Not all stories are linked directly off the front page keeping it’s size down to a manageable 6 phone screenfulls. Breaking news is updated every few minutes.

Content: *** Usability: **** html

Fredericksburg, Virginia Free Lance-Star
Fredericksburg is a city of 20,000 about 50 miles from Washington, DC. The local paper’s mobile site is of daunting size, it appears to include virtually the whole daily paper. There’s news, business, travel, editorials, letters to the editor, obituaries, high school sports, feature articles, columnists and even a listing of all the stray dogs and cats up for adoption at the local animal shelters. All this would be a great resource for local mobile users if only it were better organized. Every item is linked directly of the home page which fills an impractical 40 screens on a typical main-stream phone with a128x160 px lcd. There is no way to search or jump to a particular part of the home page. This design is unwieldy even on a PDA, but on a phone most users will only visit articles listed near the top of the home page.

Content: **** Usability: * html

Jacksonville, Florida Times-Union Jax2Go
A great example of a really well designed mobile site.  Jax2Go image 2  Jax2Go image 1 The front page consists of just seven links to the major sections of the site. Most of the sections have their own menus which allow the user to drill down to their area of interest quickly. You will find plenty of local news, business news, feature articles and the obituaries. Sports coverage is minimal, just scores of professional and major college games pulled off the wires. There’s even some mobile specific content, weather radar images and traffic cams. The radar was current but even though its 2:45 AM in Jacksonville as I write this, the traffic cams show sunlit freeways. This site is one of the few to have adds. There are small graphic logos of a law firm or a furniture store at the top of several pages. Very few mainstream WAP sites have been able to sell any advertising. I think it’s a good omen for the future of the mobile web that a local news site can.

Content: *** Usability: ***** html

Lawrence, Kansas Journal-World
Another generally well designed mobile site with a couple of no-nos. The homepage has links to the five sections (local news, sports, arts & entertainment, Today’s photos, movie listings) at the top followed by the current temperature and forecast. There are plenty of in-dept articles, all on local topics except for some celebrity gossip on the entertainment page. There is a problem with the sports link in that it takes you to a non-mobile page. The photos page is a nice idea but I’m not sure how much, if any of it will load on typical phones. It’s not that the photos are large, but that there are 69 images on the page – 310 KB worth!

Content: *** Usability: ***** html

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
The Milwaukee, WI local paper’s site is fairly easy to navigate with a phone browser. At the top of each page there are links to the sections; Home, News, Sports, Business, Entertainment and Weather. There are headline links to six stories on each of those pages along with a summary of each story. The summaries make each links page about six screenfulls long. I’d prefer the links pages without the summaries to cut down on the scrolling on my little 128×160 screen, but the design works well on a device with a QVGA screen and fast scrolling like a Sony Ericsson P910. The weather page is less satisfactory as it uses tables for layout. Their are too many cells in the tables. Even a smart browser like Opera or Netfront can’t display the weather page readably on a screen any less than 240 pixels wide.

Content: *** Usability: *** html

New York Post
The tabloid Post, which is perhaps more widely read for it’s sports section than it’s news content, has focused it’s mobile edition on local news and sports together with entertainment and gossip. Fairly small, with only three to five stories in each section, the Post is well laid out for mobile browsing. The front page has just the logo and links to each of the four sections. Each section’s top-level page has a link and summary for each story and at the bottom links to the other sections. Believe it or not, the Post has what is arguably the best free New York mobile news site. The prestigious New York Times has an embarrassingly poor WAP site which has only headlines (although you can pay to receive more content through Vindigo’s Java ME client) and the ABC 7 to go site, while having slightly more news coverage than the Post, has no sports at all.

Content: *** Usability: ***** html

St. Augustine, Florida Record
A simple but unwieldy design consisting of a front page with 48 links and descriptions. The front page fills 50 screenfulls on my 128×160 px reference phone which displays 11 lines of text. The front page is 13.7 KB in size which is too large for some phones to load. I doubt anyone will want to scroll through 50 screens to find and read all of the articles. Fortunately, the most important stories for a local news site – the local news stories – are at the top of the page. The ever popular obituaries are buried near the bottom. The Record’s articles are quite nice with considerable depth and there are a lot of them. In addition to the 50 articles linked off the home page there are links to related stories at the end of many articles. Some of the news stories have photos (up to 200px wide) which is still somewhat unusual for local news sites.

Content: **** Usability: ** html

KING5.COM Seattle
This is a very cool mobile site. The home page is just seven links to the site’s sections.  KING5 image 2  KING5 image 1 The sections are news, weather (with radar images in two manually selected sizes 90 and 440! pixels wide), sports, health and biz/tech. The front page has this Ajax’y effect where clicking on a section expands it – done without javascript so it works on all devices. It’s simple but clever, each section has it’s own page which is a mirror of the home page with that one section expanded. There are also videos, which I couldn’t see on my mobiles because they are Windows Media .wmv files. If you try to view the videos in a desktop browser there’s some javascript that redirects you to a (free) registration page.

Content: **** Usability: **** html

Washington Post
The Post is generally acknowledged to be one of the US’s best newspapers. Their mobile site, however is disappointing. I suspect it was broken at the time I visited but here’s what I saw. The experience starts well with a clean homepage consisting of a logo and links to four sections (Political News, Columnists, “Today in Congress” and “On the Web”). The first three open to pages with links to and summaries of articles. But selecting an article link brings up a page with just the article name and and an even shorter summary! At the top of the section pages are links to additional sections which do nothing but refresh the current page. The “On the Web” link on the homepage is dead leading to a custom (not mobile) error page. I’ll check back in a week or so and publish an update if things improve.

Content: *Usability: * html