W3C guidelines inadequate

Won't transform mobile web business


Comment So many of the most disruptive business models based on wireless networks depend on heavy use of the mobile web, that it is easy to forget what an unsatisfactory experience this remains.

The new approaches that could shake up the telecoms landscape - epitomised by the advertising-supported free access services favoured by Google – depend on a more usable and appealing mobile web experience, if they are not to remain confined to the laptop platform.

A group of about 30 companies within the W3C (Worldwide Web Consortium) standards body has now come up with a common set of guidelines for website developers – Mobile Web Best Practises 1.0 - aimed at making it easier to surf the internet from mobile devices.

The group contains many of the companies that are most dependent on this aim becoming a reality, including Google itself, Nokia, AOL and Microsoft.

However, though valuable for bringing a broader measure of consensus into this fragmented world, the guidelines do not go far enough to make the mobile web a serious platform for generating revenues. In fact, given the wealth of creativity that has gone into the evolution of the full sized web experience, some of the recommendations are laughably simple – betraying the serious lack of understanding of this issue from which most mobile carriers and suppliers suffer.

Avoiding large pop-up ads and page scrolling hardly transforms the mobile web into a next generation platform, and the document avoids most of the issues that will be essential to make internet surfing usable on cellphones, and indeed differentiate the mobile from the PC experience – tight integration with SMS and other messaging, for instance.

However, the set of 60 recommendations do at least show a new awareness of the need to help websites work better on small screens, a change that would drive more mobile traffic to sites, and generate more data revenue for service providers – although, despite the presence of Vodafone and other cellcos in the group, easier mobile web access will be a double edged sword once they are forced to adopt flat rate data pricing.

At this point, the less unfettered surfing going on, the more profitable cellcos can be. Website and content management system designers are now invited to test the guidelines and feedback to a collaborative online "wiki" document.

Last month the sale of the .mobi top level domain name began, also designed to stimulate usage of the mobile web.

Copyright © 2006, Wireless Watch

Wireless Watch is published by Rethink Research, a London-based IT publishing and consulting firm. This weekly newsletter delivers in-depth analysis and market research of mobile and wireless for business. Subscription details are here.

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