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Some readers and tweeters in uproar over "responsive delivery" issue

A recent Mobile Marketer story about responsive Web design and responsive delivery touched a nerve with readers and also revealed some confusion over what exactly the term ?responsive? means as it applies to the delivery of Web content on mobile devices.

The numerous comments in reaction to the story both on the Mobile Marketer Web site as well as on Twitter suggest a disconnect between the broader discussion among developers around how to be ?responsive? and others who have heard about responsive Web design but may not be as aware of methodologies such as responsive or adaptive delivery.

The comments also underscore a significant difference between independent developers, who are embracing responsive Web design, and enterprise developers, who appear to have growing concerns about the strategy and for whom the Forrester study that served as the basis for the first story was written.

?This idea of being responsive is really important,? said Ike DeLorenzo, vice president of product management and marketing at Moovweb, San Francisco. ?There is responsive Web design, there is responsive delivery, everybody wants to be responsive in some way.

?Responsive Web design is a great idea, a great goal, it just appears that from this report, other methodologies accomplish that a bit better,? he said.

Code of conduct
HTML5 is the language at the base of the different responsive methodologies.

Responsive Web design requires companies to have one set of code that is pushed out to any device, with some elements running in the background based on the type of device it is being served to.

In responsive delivery, the server acts as a go-between to pick and choose the appropriate code elements to deliver to each device.

The report from Forrester and Moovweb surveyed enterprise companies with responsive Web design projects underway to find out how these projects are progressing. It is one of the first reports to address responsive Web design projects already underway, according to Moovweb.

The original story on the report can be read here.

To get an idea of how virulent the responses have been, the follow this Twitter discussion.

As additional research comes out, this is likely to deepen the understanding of the various methodologies being deployed to address delivering Web content across multiple devices.

The author of the report, Forrester Research vice president and principal analyst Jeffrey Hammond, said he thinks some readers might have taken issue with the statement that 63 percent of companies using responsive Web design today believe it is not suitable for long-term use.

?The way I would have phrased it is that all companies building mobile apps are keeping their options open, and 63 percent don?t believe they?ve yet found a long term, strategic solution in RWD or any other approach,? Mr. Hammond said.

?It?s slightly higher for folks use responsive frameworks, and slightly lower for folks using an RWD technique,? he said.

?The other way to looks at it is 19 percent who use RWD think their existing methodology is sufficient now and in the future.?

Back-end infrastructure
One of the findings that readers reacted to was that more than 70 percent of the cost, time and effort in responsive Web design projects is being spent on back-end recoding APIs, middleware, integration and infrastructure.

At first glance, this finding may seem confusing because responsive Web design is billed as a front-end delivery methodology.

However, there is a significant difference in how responsive Web design is put into practice for startups compared to enterprises that already have numerous existing Web assets in place supported by back-end infrastructure.

?With responsive Web design, the independent developers who are doing it, they don?t have existing back-end code, they are building the whole thing from scratch, so they don?t have to rewrite because there is nothing to rewrite,? Mr. DeLorenzo said. ?They are building a totally new startup for something.

?There is a completely different use case for the enterprise when they have an existing back-end,? he said. ?That is why the enterprise likes responsive delivery and the indie developers who are doing a startup like responsive Web design.?

Some of the brands that have adopted responsive Web design include Boston Globe, KLM, Nissan and Colgate.

USA Today relaunched its site using adaptive delivery last summer (see story).

Moovweb customers using responsive delivery include,, and

Commerce vs. content
Another possible reason for the heated response is that responsive Web design can in fact be a good solution for some types of sites, such as content, at the same time that it may not be for others, such as commerce sites.

Wilson Kerr, vice president of business development and sales at Unbound Commerce, Boston, reports that many retailers are struggling with responsive Web design rollouts.

?For a content site, i.e. the Boston Globe, RWD is likely a solid solution, since the goal is to have similar content displayed across a spectrum of form factors,? Mr. Kerr said.

?Unfortunately the promise of responsive has been applied broadly and, for online retailers, it can come with a host of problems that have, in fact, required unanticipated back-end work for many.

?Again, this has less to do with RWD generally and more to do with the specific needs and goals of the client trying to use it.?

Concentric circles
The relationship between the different methodologies can be explained in terms of concentric circles, per Mitch Bishop, chief marketing officer of Moovweb.

?Responsive Web design is a smaller circle that is a subset of a larger circle called responsive with server- side components,? Mr. Bishop said. ?Those two circles are subsets of a larger circle called responsive delivery.

?We think responsive Web design is a good thing because it preaches unification,? he said. ?There are challenges with responsive Web design that both the responsive with server-side components and responsive delivery methodologies solve.?

One reason for much of the confusion over responsive Web design versus responsive delivery is that while the former has been around for a little while now, the idea of responsive delivery is much newer.

Additionally, not a lot of companies have deployed sites using responsive delivery yet.

?The thing that we tend to clarify for our clients is that when you do a responsive site design, all of your content is flowing, but you are not doing anything different per device for the content that is on the content delivery side,? said Scott Michaels, executive vice president at Atimi Software, Vancouver, Canada. ?Whereas we tend to have to clarify that with responsive delivery you may do a shorter version of that same article for mobile delivery.

?It?s kind of the next stage, and it doesn?t make sense for everyone,? he said.

The downside with responsive delivery is that it can require significant effort because the idea is to create content that is specifically geared towards mobile devices. For some businesses this will make sense while for others it may not.

?Do you believe that making a shorter product description makes sense for mobile and if so, then that is effort you want to expend,? Mr. Michaels said.

Final Take
Chantal Tode is associate editor on Mobile Marketer, New York