opinion

Start Being Mobile Progressive

A.J. Hall

With the end of the year approaching, I found myself at a loss for a timely end-of-year article idea. Enlisting the help of everyone at ElevatedX, I opened our internal communication app and fired off a chat that asked, “Any XBIZ article topic suggestions for my last one in 2016?”

I shook my head when a response came back from my business partner that said "Stop ignoring mobile" and fired back sarcastically with “Thanks, that might have been good four years ago.”

Heading into 2017, paysite owners need to go beyond recognizing ‘mobile’ as a buzzword.

He said, “Tell that to the third-party billers who still to this day, every time they secure a paysite’s members area, mobile videos don't play. Tell that to every person who protects their member’s area with Simple HTTP authentication and breaks video playback for their mobile users. We field support tickets to fix this stuff all the time.”

So here you have it. Stop ignoring mobile!

At this exact point in time at the end of 2016, most sites will load on a mobile device. For some, this is sufficient, despite that the user experience for anyone using their site is miserable or that they’re actually losing money daily due to not being more mobile progressive.

When most people think about mobile, usually they think about responsive design or mobile site layouts or sites looking good on a tablet or phone. Aesthetics typically come to mind first, followed by usability/user experience, followed by functionality. This list should actually be rearranged to reverse the order.

Heading into 2017, paysite owners need to go beyond recognizing “mobile” as a buzzword.

If you operate a paysite, you need to understand mobile’s scope and technology’s importance in the success of your ongoing business:

1. On a fundamental level, a site needs to have content that is mobile compatible. This means photos small enough to show up on a page within an acceptable timeframe and video formats that can actually be played on a tablet or phone.

Between Elevated X customer sites and the large lot of paysites I join to check them out, the number of sites still offering Flash files, MOV or WMV video files is astonishing. Not only do formats like WMV not work on mobile at all, but they're also getting decreasing support from standard browsers such as Chrome. Paysites need to have current standard video formats and webmasters should remove anything outdated, obsolete or near obsolete.

2. Websites’ secure member’s only areas need to be protected in a very specific way. If this isn’t done, videos will fail to play for users of certain devices, among them some of the most popular and widely used tablets and phones on the market.

All paysite owners use either a basic form of HTTP authentication such as the htaccess file method installed by most billing companies, or something form-based, be it custom coded or a third-party paid security script like Phantom Frog or ProxyPass.

Due to a constant onslaught of technical support requests from customers saying, “Videos won’t play on (Insert your favorite Apple or Android device name here)”, a couple of years ago we added our own authentication layer, simply calling it Elevated X Protect. This had to be done in order to provide our customers with a free alternative to the aforementioned paid scripts if they just wanted something no-frills to take care of protecting their member areas and didn’t need (or want) to pay for a robust, dedicated site security product.

The differences between how a desktop browser behaves and how things work on a mobile device result in this breaking playback. Every paysite operator must be completely sure their site protection and login methods are working in a way that’s not blocking video playback on mobile devices.

3. When it comes to technology and functionality, mobile is not a constant. As an example, with the release of Apple’s iOS 10, aside from the existing authentication pitfall detailed above, there's an added pitfall: Cookie based login scripts that use non-expiring cookies won't work. Surprise! If you coded your own login forms or hired a developer to setup your join form or login system, it may not work on as many as 70% of the iPhones currently out there.

We addressed this for our CMS users with Elevated X Protect, using cookies that expire after a set time, and are extended periodically and while I can’t speak for others, I know that site security script maker ProxyPass has also addressed this issue and has a fix available for its customers.

Device makers are working at a frantic pace to release their next bigger, better phone or tablet. When paysite owners don’t keep up with this development, their sites stop working for mobile viewers, often without them knowing about it until someone complains, and a site may get dozens or hundreds of cancelled users before someone will make contact, assuming contact details other than the billing company’s are even listed or easily locatable on the site.

4. Content delivery methods change along with advancing mobile technology. A large number of sites still try to serve their movie files exclusively with RTMP, which does not work on mobile browsers.

It’s not that site owners are doing anything wrong, they simply don’t know that what they’re doing is making it so mobile users can’t watch their videos.

As an example, even with our own customers who have the ability within their Elevated X CMS software to encode videos into the same HLS adaptive bitrate streaming file format used by Apple for IOS devices, we still see people paying their hosting company extra for Wowza for streaming and then using the rtmp portion of Wowza instead of using the HLS or mp4 portion of Wowza. A lot of site owners and webmasters are completely unaware of what’s happening on their web sites for mobile viewers.

5. Design constraints and standards change along with technology. A surprisingly large number of paysites still have designs that break on mobile as a result of being outdated.

A couple years ago we switched to PHP-based site templates and in the last year made them responsive. Despite that, even among our own CMS customers who have access to both free responsive mobile friendly design templates AND an optional truly mobile optimized paysite setup, many are still using old, discontinued Smarty ones and/or have sites that don’t work well on mobile, if at all.

Having a site that breaks on mobile or is in any way nonfunctional not only upsets customers, it also kills sales and prevents people from wanting to come back. Most customers won’t come back later to check and see if a broken web site is fixed so it’s important to make sure things are working properly to begin with.

As mobile continues to be a bigger part of how people access content, site owners need to keep up with these changes themselves, or make use of products provided by companies that handle it for them.

Mobile will only continue to evolve and push forward and become more complex and more difficult to keep up with. The information in this article is a good primer and a good roadmap for every paysite owner who wants to satisfy the needs and expectations in 2017 and beyond.

AJ Hall is a 16-year adult industry veteran, winner of the 2016 XBIZ Tech Leadership Award and CEO of Elevated X Inc., a provider of popular adult site CMS software. Hall has spoken at industry trade shows and written for several trade publications. Elevated X software powers more than 2,000 leading adult sites, has been nominated for more than a dozen industry awards and won the 2012, 2014 and 2015 XBIZ Award for Software Company of the Year.

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