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Squeezing Web Sites Onto Cellphones

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When a group of engineers at National Instruments Corp. modified a 1988 Oldsmobile so it could be controlled by an iPhone, the company was quick to share the project on its online forum for customers.

A spouse "might not care about it, but our community eats it up," said Deidre Walsh, community and social media manager for National Instruments, a supplier of automation and computer measurement tools.

The Austin, Texas, company has a fostered dedicated online group of 125,000 engineers and scientists with do-it-yourself projects. Its strategy illustrates how companies have increasingly turned to Web communities to build their brand, address customer service problems and unveil new products.

But as people spend more time on their cellphones, many companies are considering taking their message boards, user forums and blogs to mobile devices. National Instruments is considering ways to build a mobile site, Ms. Walsh says but has to resolve issues such as how users can share programming code, which are large files.

Other companies, including technology giant Hewlett-Packard Co., are discussing ways to build their first Web sites specifically for wireless users. "We definitely have work to do to get our Web site mobile friendly," said Lois Townsend, H-P's director of community. "We know our customers want it."

H-P has a financial incentive to expand its community strategy. The forums, which often address problems before a customer has to call the service line, have saved millions of dollars in deflected calls, Ms. Townsend said.

The move to mobile isn't without challenges. Companies have to decide whether to create a barebones site accessible by even the most basic handset, or opt for a flashier application accessible by select smart phones. Different phones, screen sizes and platforms create headaches for site designers.

From The Wall Street Journal
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