Salon Mobile is a pioneer online news magazine. It was founded in 1995 at the beginning of the Internet boom and has always featured well written articles on news, politics, the arts and technology as well as book and movie reviews. Salon has struggled to survive economically and since 2001 has limited access to a portion of its content to paying subscribers only.

Salon is also a pioneer on the mobile web, launching a PDA edition in 2001. It was aimed at users of the Omnisky network for Palm OS PDA’s. Omnisky, which started service in late in 1999 was an early data-only wireless network based around a battery powered modem which attached to Palm V and Vx PDA’s and allowed users unlimited wireless access at up to 19.2 Kbps for around $50 per month. The technology was CPDP CDPD, an early protocol which allowed analog cellular providers to provide packet data service. Omnisky is long gone and most of the CPDP CDPD networks have been shut down – but Salon continues to maintain the Salon PDA site using the same layout and design that it’s had since the beginning. Even the url, reflects the Omnisky heritage .

It’s actually a perfectly good design for a site like Salon which is mainly text anyway. There are quite a few similar cHtml PDA news sites originally designed for 160x160px PDA’s which look good and have excellent usability on today’s WAP2 phones. Nothing fancy, just a shallow cascading menu structure leading to individual articles.  Salon Mobile    Salon Mobile  

Salon’s mobile site typically contains about 18 articles from the current issue. The bad news is that the articles are only excerpts. A 2500 word article is summarized down to less than 200 words which leaves very little of substance. For a site that prides its self on the quality of it’s writers and writing, it’s inexcusable to publish such abbreviated versions. I don’t know why Salon thinks they have to do this hack job on their content for mobile. Is the theory that mobile users don’t want to read longer articles? I don’t believe that. I read 2500 word and longer documents on my rather low-end phone almost every day. I’d certainly rather read a full article than a meaningless summary. I suppose the motivation could be that after I read the teaser article on my phone, I’ll be so interested that I’ll go to Salon’s web site to read the full version, and maybe click on a few ads while I’m there. Personally, that’s not going to happen – I’m just going to move on to sites that serve compelling content on the mobile web as well as the on the full web. As for the potential loss of add revenue – I know Salon’s hurting for money – what they should do is sell advertising on their mobile site. More and more sites are doing it and I find I don’t mind it as long as it’s done in moderation with respect for the small size of the screen.

I was surprised that Salon was using a mobile page design that was five years old but was pleased to find that old design still plays well on todays mobiles. On the other hand, I was appalled that a web site that is well worth visiting for the quality of its content would publish a mobile edition so lacking in that very quality.

Salon Mobile: cHtml
Content: * Usability: ****

One thought on “ Mobile

  1. There is an alternative link that features the same minimalist layout but full articles:

    This link works without issue on my Verizon v3c. Naturally, some content is restricted unless you are both a premium subscriber and willing to use their insecure log-in; if you don’t, you are able to read the same partial articles that those who visit the website are able to read.

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