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Web-like applications for the smartphone and other portable devices are a new medium of scientific communication that has arrived. Often called simply “apps,” this medium is an alternative to the familiar Webpage, but with very different design requirements. OSTI has several projects going to explore and develop apps that will provide access to its many resources and collections. It won’t be easy and it won’t be quick but it is happening.
For general Web pages, there are typically specific logical segments of the Web page that can stand alone as mobile device Web pages. Let's say there are 10 such segments and assume that each is the proper size for a smartphone page. In that case one does two things. First make each segment a page in the app. Second create a front end menu page that lists, and links to, all 10 segment pages. The conversion is now ready to go into the app. If a segment does not fit the tiny screen then one may have to rework it into several smaller segments. Of course you can do a lot of smartphone specific tweaking along the way.
As you do this with more Web pages, additional front end or interior menus may be needed to tie them all together. You may also have to give up a lot of interior linking and go with a simple tree structure, because the number of links per segment may be limited by the small space. These limits on linking need to be explored.
For search results, OSTI’s Web pages presently provide a long list of results plus other useful features, like clusters, Wikipedia, news, etc. One can make these extra features into separate segments, where at the front end the user picks a search term plus the feature they want to see. But the basic hit list is still way too big for the tiny screen. However, each hit has a number of features itself, such as title, snippet, authors, MLT button, tag cloud, etc., depending on the product. The solution is to separate these as well.
What should work is to first present just the list of titles, possibly even truncated to fit the screen. Then if the user selects a given title they get the whole bag of features for that title, or as much as can be put on one screen, or another list of choices. The devil is in the details because each product is different. The basic point is that it has to be a highly menu driven system with a lot of little segments. One can also scroll and zoom but that really does not work for blocks of text.
OSTI has a lot of options when it comes to developing apps. Information Bridge might be best, but it might also be the hardest. The interface is powerful but that also makes it complex, a veritable control room of features. News or the Ostiblog might be easiest, but they are not especially representative apps. In any case OSTI will meet the grand challenge of these app content issues, which are different from the technology issues, albeit closely related.
Questions or comments welcome. Onward!