What does, or should, the mobile version of a print newspaper look like?

That’s a question I was given cause to consider at a recent Association of Online Publishers (AOP) event in London.

Event moderator Matt Kelly, managing director of Sol361, began by asking an audience of executives from newspaper and magazine publishing groups to consider three questions.

  1. Why do newspapers insist on putting the same stories on mobile as in their print editions — complete with the same headlines — often leading to a situation in which the headline on mobile cuts off halfway through?

  2. Why, if mobile is the first thing consumers reach for when big news breaks, is it the last thing thought of in newsrooms?

  3. Why, given the success of mobile-first offerings like Flipboard, do newspaper groups continue to try to push their newspaper brands at mobile users? Why not create a dedicated brand for a dedicated mobile offering?

I don’t know if these are questions newspaper publishers had previously asked themselves. But, if not, perhaps it’s about time they started thinking about them.

One man in the room clearly had.

Malcolm Coles, product director at Trinity Mirror, spoke for 20 minutes about the firm’s current mobile pilot project, Usvsth3m. It’s almost an anti-newspaper project: No long stories, just short, snackable, irreverent content designed for consumption on the go, including more lists than you can shake a stick at.

The brief for the team behind the project was to take it from concept to live product in five weeks, which they achieved. It’s hosted on Tumblr, the team having made a conscious decision not to use Trinity Mirror’s legacy infrastructure.

Coles admitted the team had had some regrets about the choice of platform, though not about the decision to look outside of the parent company for it.

There are some anomalies in the figures, too. Statistics shared by Coles revealed that visits to the site from PCs (111,185) were almost double those from mobile (61,557), and almost six times those from tablets (20,686). Go figure.

Whether or not you like the content is a moot point; in one sense, it hardly matters. The important point about Usvsth3m is that Trinity Mirror is trying to do something different.

Whether the project sinks or swims, no one will know until it reaches the end of its four-month trial period. Whatever the outcome, though, Trinity will have learned some valuable lessons as to what the future of newspaper on mobile might, or might not, be like.

And that’s got to be something worth investing in.