If you haven't built a website yet, then don't

MIKE O'DONNELL
Last updated 05:00 01/02/2014

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OPINION: Last weekend the city of Upper Hutt kindly closed the Wallaceville Hill road to allow the 9th running of the Wallaceville Hillclimb. The community came out in force to watch local drivers see how quickly they could navigate 23 corners in less than two kilometres.

Street races were once common place in New Zealand - events like the Lyttleton street races, Wellington's Nissan Mobil 500 and the Christchurch's world famous Lady Wigram (when it was held at the airport). Today environmental resource regulation and political correctness have made such events a lot less common.

Like Kiwi sports of all types, the event pivoted on a group of volunteers and an enthusiastic club (in this case the Wellington Triumph Sports Car Club). The range of vehicles was diverse - from 1955 V8 Anglias to modern Japanese hatchbacks that your mum might use to pop down to the shops.

One thing that stood out to me was how much the mobile phone has become an integrated part of events like this. Several drivers were using an application called "Race Chrono" which not only times their runs, but plots them on a map and overlays Google Earth across the lot. Pretty impressive.

Spectators and drivers shot video of the day on their mobile, then uploaded it to Snapchat to share with their friends. Then later in the day a deal was done in the pits for a FXGT Corolla and payment was made on the spot via ASB mobile banking.

In 2007 Steve Jobs launched the first iPhone. In a classic piece of Jobs theatre he said he was there to launch three new Apple products - a telephone, a wide screen ipod and a handheld computer - then the three images behind him morphed into one. Then it dawned on the audience that the new device combined all three.

That was just the beginning. Smartphones also measure location, record sound/image/video, read temperature, allow payment and are voice responsive. Bolt this set of diverse functions up to the net, apply the network effect and the fact it's always on; and the result is a mind-boggling set of possibilities that we are still scratching the surface of.

Four years ago web guru Mary Meeker predicted 2014 as the year that mobile would overtake desktop as a way of accessing the internet. Reality proved quicker. In India, China and large parts of Asia mobile passed desktop early last year. And even here in Godzone, manacled by expensive and opaque data plans, we are about to do the same. Over the coming months more people will interact with Trade Me via a mobile device than via desktop or lappie. Much of the rest of the country will follow.

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According to ComScore mobile internet usage grew 500 per cent over the last four years while desktop stood still. Some sectors have grown faster than others. In the trillion dollar travel industry online sales accord for 40 per cent of sales in Europe with the expectation that a quarter of all sales will be mobile within three years.

For companies doing business, or organisations delivering service, the takeout is clear. Mobile needs to be a core part of your offering. And if you haven't really started the online side of your business yet, then forget about building a traditional website at all.

If your company has an existing web presence, then the main choice is between replicating its key online functionality in a mobile responsive website, or investing in an application built specifically for a type of operating system. The two main ones being Android (typically on Samsung phones) or IoS (for Apple devices).

Mobile responsive platforms are cheaper to build and provide an acceptable level of service across most mobile devices, but they get a bit creaky with complex functionality. Native applications work only with the designated operating system but have the grunt to do complex things like map earthquakes in real time or plot a racecar on a racetrack. They are also more expensive.

For a company without a current web presence it's a much easier choice. Getting a mobile responsive platform (typically using HTML5 technology) is a good first step to getting your products or services in front of everyone with the internet in their back pocket. Then once you learn how people want to use your offering, you can decide the next step.

For the thousands of small to medium sized businesses out there, there's an even better option. That option is using one of the free online content management systems like Wordpress or Tumblr. These platforms come equipped with metadata "sniffers" that ensure your content is delivered to mobile devices in the best possible way. Brilliant. And did I mention it's free?

For the large majority of Kiwi men and women who participate in club level motorsport, the do-it-yourself nature of car preparation is a key enabling feature. And as the majority of New Zealanders start access the web through mobile, the same may be true of using services like Wordpress to get your business in front of customers.

Mike "MOD" O'Donnell is an Ecommerce Manager and professional director. His Twitter handle is @modsta and he came last in the Wallaceville Hillclimb.

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