The Mobile Web and the ‘mdot’ solution

James Whatley

Hmm.

19122007149.jpg

Ok – on the back of yesterday’s announcement of the new Mobile Pownce (http://m.pownce.com) site, I thought I’d tackle a subject this week that I (along with quite a few others I suspect) have quite strong opinions on:

The Mobile Web aka The Mobile Internet aka WAP aka the Internet, made Mobile.*

*Delete where applicable or just insert your naming convention of choice.
(We’ll come back to this one later).

Having had a rather long (read: head-bangingly frustrating) conversation with someone yesterday about how… all mobile sites will become irrelevant within 12 months as the Operators all follow Vodafone’s lead, and introduce rendering engines [like Novarra], which will offer up the full internet experience to the end user’*… I thought now would be a good time to have a rant which has been boiling away inside of me since my days at Mippin.

*My reaction at this point, in case you’re interested was to walk away, screaming.

This issue is something that I absolutely, 100%, fundamentally disagree with. People (normobs — normal mobile users) do not want the internet on their mobile. They think they do.

But they don’t.

What they want is the information from the internet, optimised and perfectly formatted for their handset. They would never tell you this, because, as I said, they just don’t know.

Compressing banner ads and re-sizing images to give an out-of-context and screwed up version of the website the user is trying to view is SUCH a poor experience it’s not even worth talking about, especially when others have already hit the nail on the head so perfectly — read more about the Vodafone contoversy in-depth here.

It’s an old story back from September but it is still relevant as shown when it came up at the recent Future of Mobile event.

To quote from Mobile Internet site creators, Wapple who, at the event, commented:

“Vodafone (and other operators) are taking a best guess at websites and dumbing them down to the lowest common denominator to fit mobile screens. They do not understand that mobile users want to interact with information in entirely different ways than they would for web.”

YES. YES. YES. The mobile internet user is, by definition, a completely different mental model to that of an internet user. The same applies to TV and Mobile TV, (which I have equally strong opinions on).

Moving on…

I am a huge evangelist of the ‘m. solution’, that is: Educating end users to drop the ‘www’ and simply insert an ‘m’ into your phone’s browser will take you to the mobile version of the site you are looking for.

Facebook has done a shed load of ground work in this area by introducing m.facebook.com to the masses. To my mind, the ‘m.’ is slowly becoming the de facto mobile website standard.

Yes there are the guys from dotmobi (*wave*) who are doing a great job (in partnership with the W3C) in introducing Best Practices for Mobile Websites and anyone developing a mobile site right now would be foolish to not look at how these guys can help – but tell me this:
On a mobile phone, what is easier to type, remember and use?
http://m.yahoo.com or http://www.yahoo.mobi?

Now, putting all that aside and going back to my opening paragraph…

Just what is the correct naming convention for what this thing is that we are accessing through our mobile browsers?

Does it depend on what we’re accessing?

‘WAP’, for me, is a meaningless acronym which brings back memories of green and black screens on phones like the Nokia 7110. But still the word is bandied about within boardrooms as if it’s still cutting edge technology.

‘We need a WAP site!’
- ‘No. We don’t. We need a Mobile Website.’

‘WAP’, for me, is defined by the precursor wap. i.e.: wap.yahoo.com – there’s a WAP site for you. Two colours, basic text with a couple of links and that’s about it. WAP, for me, is the mobile equivalent of ‘Web 1.0′.

Internet made Mobile? See Vodafone’s poor attempts.

Failing that; for a meaningful attempt at taking internet content and making it mobile, try Mippin.

The Mobile Web? That’s where it’s at. Stick an ‘m’ in instead of the WAP or the W3 and see what you get.

If WAP is Web 1.0, then the Mobile Web is, to me, Web 2.0.

What say you?

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, December 19th, 2007 at 20:37 and is filed under Mobile, Whatley Wednesday. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

22 Responses to “The Mobile Web and the ‘mdot’ solution”

  1. Ricky Says:

    Fantastic post, Whatley, and something you and I have discussed previously, as well.

    I’m painfully addicted to the Mobile Web. I use it for everything that I possibly can, and even when I don’t really need it, I’ll make up a use.

    I agree wholeheartedly that there is a vast difference between “WAP”, the Internet – made mobile, and the actual Mobile Web.

    I use a Nokia N95, which is more than capable of surfing full-on websites thanks to the killer browser. However, I still find myself pulling up the mobile versions of most websites. Why? Because for most mobile sites, it’s very easy to see that thought was put into how I would want to use the site, given my limited interaction abilities. Smaller screen, less keys, no mouse, etc.

    The mobile web is making use of the buzzword of the hour in mobile industry: user experience.

    [Reply]

  2. Abul Says:

    Valid points there James. I totally agree with the fact that WAP is outdated and needs revising. WAP sites are exactly as you described. Mono pages optimized for old generation of handsets. The new era is now, along with Web 2.0, Multimedia Mobile handsets capable of connecting via Wi-Fi, HSDPA, EDGE ect… and m. is the future for Mobile Internet Access.
    What is needed is clarification on the point of what a m. site is and what a WAP site is to stop the confusion staring every NORMOB and executive sitting on the boards with outdated information. Just like the Technology world, things are moving fast and some are just finding it too fast to keep up.

    Someone give them a Web 2.0 dictionary and educate these fools. Stop hindering the progress of the new Mobile era.

    [Reply]

  3. Daniel Appelquist Says:

    I agree with everything you say except that I don’t follow your conclusion that m.something is always easier to type, remember and use than something.mobi (ok – maybe easier to type… :) ). I embrace mobile-optimized Web sites (such as Mippin) no matter what domain they’re running on. Mobiluck is another really good one I came across at LeWeb3 — very slick UI. I also agree we need to put WAP behind us and embrace the Mobile Web. The whole idea of the Mobile Web Best Practices is to give guidelines to Web content developers about how to make content mobile-friendly so that they can create these mobile-optimized user experiences within the context of their Web site — constructing a thematically consistent experience across digital touch-points.

    [Reply]

  4. Dan Lane Says:

    Since I’ve spent the past ten years polluting DNS (it harks back from my days as a hostmaster for one of the UK’s leading ISPs at the time) with silly names (click my name for my current example) and every day I have an internal battle due to simultaneously being a hardcore techie, businessman and end-user I feel like I might be somewhat qualified to say the following:

    The techie in me wants to examine the structure of a basic URL as originally intended by bearded folk:

    http://www.smstextnews.com

    http: the transport method, in this case, HyperText Transport Protocol
    www: Hostname, in this case we can see that this is a World Wide Web server if this were primarily an FTP site it’d probably have the hostname “ftp”, a news site? it’d be “news” or “nntp”…. you get the idea.
    smstextnews: Domain Name, a unique identifier in it’s TLD namespace.
    com: Top Level Domain, originally .com domains were used to signify a US or international commercial entity, many country TLDs have a second level such as .uk which contains .co.uk, .org.uk … come on, you all know this right?

    Now, the techie will generally ignore what’s best for the end user and recent trends in mis-naming things and concentrate on what is TECHNICALLY the correct place to specify a Mobile site.

    Do we replace HTTP with MOBI? no… because we’re still using HTTP to transfer the data.

    So do we replace the hostname part?… tricky one this, originally we’d use this to specify what the server did (in the days before virtualhosts) but nowadays it’s used for allsorts. Keeping things strictly traditional… no, we wouldn’t change this because we’re still essentially a webserver.

    Nobody would really think of using a mobile-specific domain (www.smstextnewsmobile.com anyone?)… no.

    TLD? hmm not really, like the hostname part it’s usage has become a bit confusing over the past few years and it’s the only part of the domain that’s regulated by a central body, but no… it doesn’t really fit here either.

    SO, where does the techie suggest we specify that we’re looking for a mobile version of the site?… simple!

    http://www.smstextnews.com/mobile

    The end-user in me doesn’t give a toss what the techie says about standards and just wants a simple universal way to tell a site that he would like a mobile-formatted version. He wants to type m.domain.com, it’s the simplest way to get the results he needs, he’s made his mind up and there will be no arguing with him.

    The businessman wants to please his customers, after all, a happy customer is a returning customer… or so he believes. He’s had a chat with the techie guy and he’s been told that it’s actually quite a simple practice to setup m.domain.com, http://www.domain.mobi and http://www.domain.com/mobile to all point to the same mobile version and let the end-user choose.

    So what’s the correct answer? until a single universal standard emerges (and that will be chosen by the end user, NOT a governing body or company) the best practice would be to guess which one your end-user is going to try and make sure that your site is available for him or her on whatever method he or she should choose.

    Or the short version:

    http://www.google.mobi redirects to http://www.google.com/mobile while m.google.com shows you the normal Google homepage (with browser detection trickery to show you a mobile specific search page). Take from that what you will!.

    [Reply]

  5. Terence Eden Says:

    Despite having a .mobi domain (hey, it was cheap!) I broadly agree with you.

    People do want easy to access, mobile specific services – and this is exactly what transcoding engines seek to do. They are, at the moment, imperfect. But in the absence of mobile friendly content, what option is there for those of us without N95s or iPhones?

    I agree that .mobi is harder to type than m., but in a world where people have become conditioned to look at TLDs for content (.info, .museum, .uk) it makes it a more memorable focal point than “m.”.

    All that being said, content is king. A site like http://traintimes.org.uk/ is not mobile friendly but the content is better than http://nationalrail.co.uk/mobile – IMO. People go where the content and usability appeal to them and don’t care whether it’s mobile friendly, transcoded or used a handheld specific CSS.

    I’m sure that Vodafone (and the other operators) will be publishing statistics in the new year – but suffice to say, I don’t think any of them are regretting going down the transcoded route. If you survey customers they love internet access and most of them appreciate having “desktop” websites down-scaled to their mobile screen. Those that don’t like transcoding can, and do, turn it off.

    I’d encourage people to look at the debate on Betavine – http://www.vodafonebetavine.net/web/guest/forums/message_boards/category/182 – if they’re interested in the realities of transcoding rather than the hyperbole.

    You can visit my new ajax heavy site at m.wap.mobi/mobile ;-)

    Terence

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  6. Martin Willitts Says:

    Why use a URL at all? Browsing is awkward on a phone but some of the content on the internet is useful to access when the phone is all you have. IotaSphere presents a good model for interaction with internet content. You have a list of sources of information from which you choose. This leads to a few questions pertinent to the information type (weather, news, train times, jokes etc etc) before going off an fetching the answer. Internet content made useful on a mobile.

    [Reply]

  7. Steve Paine Says:

    Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Aren’t you talking about cellphone web here? Mobile web is a much wider space and includes devices like the iPhone, Nokia N810, Mobile internet devices, Kindle, PocketSurfer2, Small-screen UMPCs. These devices can display full-format web pages without any problem and in the case of the iPhone and N800, fit in your pocket. You don’t need specialised content for these devices.

    2″ mobile web is what you’re talking about and yes, WRT that, you’re right. Forget re-renderers. m. is also a great way to go. No web master wants to have to buy and maintain another domain.

    My feeling is that PMPs and MIDs will merg into one device for the 4+ mobile experience (video+internet.) If its done correctly (read: style, ease of use) then we might see many peoples iPods grow into iPads over the next 2 years.

    Steve.

    [Reply]

  8. Simon Says:

    “These devices can display full-format web pages without any problem”

    I’m willing to argue that. I’ve found that browsing the “normal web” on an iPhone is a horrible experience. If you load a page of any decent length, it slows to a crawl. Scrolling becomes VERY unresponsive (it can sometimes take up to 10 seconds for each scroll to take effect on TechCrunch), and when it eventually does scroll you’re shown a transparent style page until the device can render the new area (this can take another 5-10 seconds).

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  9. Ben Smith Says:

    @Simon: Really? I have a UK iPhone (not jailbroken or molested in any way) in front of me now and once loaded (and that is too slow… boo EDGE!!) Techcrunch scrolls smoothly and refreshes the ‘transparent style’ area in

    [Reply]

  10. Steve Paine Says:

    @simon.

    ok, its true that some of these devices still have some issues but they are far removed from the 2″ experience. The argument remains, there are many mobile internet devices (and there will be many more) that present the web in its intended format.

    Zteve

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  11. Jim Durbin Says:

    I just had this conversation with my wife, and she said the same thing about having the internet on your phone. I agreed with her, but now that you point it out, I realize I don’t want the internet on my phone. I want tightly focused content and visuals that gives me quick access to information.

    And that’s a mobile site. Excellent post, Ewan.

    [Reply]

  12. James Whatley Says:

    Wow – thanks for the fantastic responses one and all.

    Great reading, all of them.

    Something I want to pick up on that Dan said:

    “…until a single universal standard emerges (and that will be chosen by the end user, NOT a governing body or company)…”

    This worries me slightly. How could the user possibly choose if the user isn’t given the choice?
    In this instance: A Vodafone user.

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  13. Terence Eden Says:

    (Speaking for muself, not Vodafone)

    James, I have to take issue with your statement – Vodafone users *do* have a choice.

    The first time a Vodafone customer tries to access the web, they get asked “do you want Vodafone to adapt pages to better suit your phone?”

    The user can, at any time (even as they’re browsing a page) change their transcoding preferences. If the transcoder is screwing up a page, there’s a link at the bottom of the page saying “See Original” or “Unmodified” I forget which.

    They can also go to Web Preferences on Vodafone live and permanently change the transcoding options.

    The transcoder doesn’t alter mobile friendly pages. Anything on an m. server, .mobi domain, valid xhtml-mp, https sites regulated by the FSA or on a whitelist remain unchanged.

    Finally, the user can use a different APN – internet – granted a bit technical for a “normob”.

    I think that’s a fair bit of choice. It certainly means that anyone with a crappy old phone on GPRS can visit a lot more websites than they used to.

    However, this doesn’t change the fact that transcoding can only ever be a stop-gap solution. One day we’ll all be on UMTS running Webkit / Firefox / Opera. We’ll have lasers beaming 22 inch images directly into our eyeballs. Everyone will be writing valid XHTML / HTML 5.

    Until that day, people can access WAP sites, they can access mobile friendly sites, they can access “full fat” sites and, if they choose, have them shrunk to work on their phone.

    Blimey, that’s a lot of text to type onto a Blackberry!

    [Reply]

  14. James Whatley Says:

    Terence – I am glad you’re here mate.

    Nice response.
    :)

    [Reply]

  15. SMS Text News » Archives » Full YouTube On The Nokia N95 8GB Says:

    [...] big milestone in bringing the web to handsets, but a step away from the ‘mobile web’ as Whatley envisions. This also means that most any flash site can be accessed and fully enjoyed on the Nokia N95 8GB. [...]

  16. Ali Says:

    Is there an sms solution for iPhone where you may forward and sms to multiple numbers or may forward sms ?

    [Reply]

  17. Ben Smith Says:

    @Ali: Firmware 1.1.3 appears to have this feature. See:http://www.gearlive.com/news/article/q407-iphone-113-firmware-feature-gallery/

    [Reply]

  18. Jay Fenton Says:

    I think we’re undo-ing a lot of what made the Internet as intuitive as it is today by going down the .mobi path.

    Take a global brand, someone like Pepsi. They’ve built themselves up by being locale specific with regards to their promotions, and websites etc. – if I’m French, i’d go to http://ww.pepsi.fr/, if i’m Dutch, http://www.pepsi.nl/ and so on.

    How are they supposed to accomplish this with .mobi? Is it http://fr.pepsi.mobi/?

    http://m.pepsi.fr/ is far more intuitive, works with the exising TLD infrastructure, and costs no additional money for the registrant. So why anyone would even think of using .mobi is beyond me.

    [Reply]

  19. James Whatley Says:

    @Jay – That’s a fantastic point which is very well made.

    And I must admit, something I hadn’t even thought about.

    Nice work.

    [Reply]

  20. Dan Lane Says:

    I can’t believe I missed Jay’s point in my previous analysis… damn my globalist ways!!!

    [Reply]

  21. SMS Text News » Archives » Mobile Photo Uploads Getting Easier Says:

    [...] has finally launched its own mobile site, and Whatley will be pleased that you can access it at m.photobucket.com. The mobile site offers access to your own photos, as [...]

  22. Giff Gfroerer, i2SMS Says:

    What really needs to be done is to make this simple for the end user. The end user should not have to remember m.site or mobile.site or site.mobile. The end user should simply be able to type in what they already understand and are comfortable with…. simply type in http://www.site.com.

    What the site needs to do is know that the user is coming from a mobile device by detecting the device. Then, the site needs to serve up the appropriate page under m.site.com to the user, thus not making the user have to think. Obviously, the site also needs to:

    1) Make Relevant information easy to find spend resources on ease of navigation
    2) Keep Content To A Minimum
    3) Make a Familiar and Non-Threatening Path to the Information
    4) The Information Must Appear Correctly the First Time
    5) And Lastly, Test, Test and Re-test! (Use a full lab of mobile devices to see what your customers are seeing!)

    [Reply]

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