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IV. Replicating the Pine Tree Mobile Site - Custom Coding A Legal Aid Mobile Site

There are several approaches to developing a mobile-optimized website, including custom coding and more automated solutions. For their initial mobilization project, PTLA chose to hand code their mobilize optimized site. Although some may see this as a return to much earlier web development practices, this approach allowed PTLA to create a simple, mobile-optimized site fully-designed for the mobile environment. Pine Tree has since abandoned it’s hard-coded mobile site in favor of a Drupal generated mobile site. There are some trade-offs, as you can see from the following section.

Is hand coding the best approach for your site? Probably not. A list of advantages and disadvantages is included below, but in general, programs should evaluate online mobilization services and CMS-based mobilization solutions before considering hand coding their site. Having basic understanding of coding for mobile sites, however, will be useful no matter what approach your organization chooses.
 

Advantages of custom coding include:

  • Effective evaluation. A major advantage of custom coding over some of the automated mobilization solutions is that hand-coding forces your website team to thoroughly evaluate whether each component of an existing site actually works in the mobile environment. Tools that mobilize sites by tweaking CSS and content might be sufficient for a simple website or blog, but might not work for some of the more complex websites in the legal aid community. Coding a website does take time, and it isn't cost effective for developers to invest time migrating portions of the desktop site that don't work in the mobile environment. Ultimately, this means a simpler website, which given the limitations of phones, is very likely a good thing.  
  • Minimizing compatibility issues.  Custom coding also makes developers more mindful of the underlying code of a website. If the site runs into compatibility issues with particular devices, it is easy to modify the codebase to compensate. Custom coding also allows developers to ensure that their site is consistent with the proper coding practices for mobile sites. In addition to being able to evaluate each line of code as they write it, developers can also easily plug their markup into a mobile compliance testing tool like mobiReady.

Disadvantages of custom coding include:

  • Development time.  At the same time, custom coding a mobile website does pose some challenges. The main disadvantage to hand-coding a website is development time. The PTLA site was built and refined over the course of many months by a professional web development shop - iKnow Web Design in Portland, Maine. Learning to develop a site in XHTML-MP (the XHTML subset used for phones) can be a time-consuming endeavor.
  • Future editing. Editing a custom coded mobile website once it launches can also be challenging, especially since most new websites utilize content management systems and WYSIWYG editors.



Click on the link below for a technical overview of custom coding for programs interested in using this approach to develop their mobile presence.
Technical Overview of Custom Coding a Mobile Site