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Mobile 2.0: The phone-in show

Never mind the quality, feel the width

Show report Last week I attended a one-day conference in San Francisco to promote "Mobile 2.0", covering all matters related to new Mobile Web and mobile innovation. It was arranged to coincide with the O'Reilly official Web 2.0 Summit running in the same city and partly, I think, as a reaction to how little that show was talking about mobile- related web access.

First up and to set the scene was Steve Bratt, CEO of the W3C standards body, which has taken to supporting the Mobile Web heavily over the last two years. The numbers speak for themselves: two billion phones are already in use and a major proportion of these mobile-web capable. Eighty per cent of the world's people could be connected to the internet via a mobile using technology in use today - if we can just get the services right.

Comparison of the Mobile Web today was made with the original web back in 1994; both slow, with no security or child protection, walled gardens and not accessible. If the fixed-line web can snowball so dramatically over last decade there's no reason the mobile web cannot do so too, and more so.

This time the infrastructure is in place, the business models exist and the devices are actually out there in people's hands. Given the potential, the mobile web will become the dominant access method in many countries of the world. Practically, the W3C is assisting or pulling together several initiatives.

These include producing the Mobile Web Best Practices guidelines, MobileOK quality mark and working in collaboration with other organisations such as 3GPP and OMA.

Next up was Kaj Haggman of Helsinki-based Widsets, who crossed quickly from the practical today to the techie future. WidSets develop and promote small Java-based widgets; separate and specific mobile applications dedicated to doing one thing well.

You simply download to your smartphone those widgets that appeal - be they web apps, picture viewers, blog readers and then use when you want to. If there's no widget available to do what you want, the opportunity is there to create it and upload to the library for others to share.

This is an interesting approach, but we enter a caveat about the potential user base. It was touted as a general user tool but you really need to know your stuff to make sense of and then use it. Still in beta today, Widsets have time, hopefully, to simplify the message and expand that user base.

Bragging rights

The panel on Devices & Software followed the usual format of company ra-ra speech then happy squabbling and bragging. Opera is great, as is SoonR (mobile access to PC apps), AOL were bullish and .mobi going great. The outcome from the talk is best thought of as "trying to make things better" and "it still needs to happen". Better web access, wider application access, easier text input and easier to find content; all thoughts that should be applauded.

Tony Fish provided the last entertainment before lunch with his fundamentalist zeal for Mobile Web 2.0 as encapsulated in his new book of the same title. The ideas of control and connections are broad and intriguing, buy the book to get fully converted to the new religion.

After lunch "a word from our sponsors" as Sun, Verisign and Google made up the panel on Infrastructure & Enabling Technology. Sun promoted Java, Verisign its mobile services - the size of which surprised at least me - and Google talked up the myths and realities of mobile as it sees it, which provoked most interest.

Devices are not the issue, timeliness is better than richness and phones will be useful but not take over from PCs. AdSense is at least a year away, so no mobile advertising revenue from that source for a while for site owners. But it should come on stream: Google does believe the Long Tail argument! From the largest of the large to the smallest of the small: Peter Vesterbacka of Some Bazaar showcased new startups launching in to the mobile space, including:

  • Funambol: Community based phone testing
  • MCN: Improved mobile search
  • 3Jam: Reply All text messaging
  • EyeSpot: Browser based video editing
  • Mojeo: Location aware bookmarking All had something interesting to say and the Mobile Web excitement was shining through.

Heady phrases such as "launched last week", "public beta", "hacked together" came up regularly and showed just what you can do with simple resources these days.

Keep it Simple, Stupid

The User Experience panel followed with input from Symbian, Goto Moto, the Mozilla Minimo project and Blue Flavor. This centred on what users want and how to give it to them, as a helpful antidote to the technology message. Key messages? make applications and services easier to use, not richer.

Browser access is still important: so optimise the experience where you can, with features such as autocomplete on text input; limit how many functions you have in a service (no more than five); and do browser optimisation! The fixed web has three main browsers to deal with, the mobile web still has 30-plus with widely differing capabilities. Oh, and don't hold your breath for Ajax on a mobile. As the audience began to flag, the Content panel covered what you want or should want. Revolutionising education into a free-format, child-led experience was genuinely surprising as a concept, while most other points still pushed the 'newness' of it all. Bringing up the rear was Volantis, covering Ubiquity. Firmly in the 'there's only web' camp Rhys Lewis left us with the last thoughts on access (global) and technology (getting better).

DIY marketing

A last note on the day begs to be pointed out; what you can now achieve in life using the web. The conference was slickly organised with tier-1 sponsors, on-line registration, hosts, discussion panels, speakers from around the world, lunch, networking drinks and several hundred people in attendance. It was also dreamt up, promoted and run on a purely social level by the people behind MobileMonday in London and San Francisco.

Organised via the web and email, with registration payment via PayPal the conference cost just $45 to attend and very good value was had by all! Congratulations to Dan Appelquist and Mike Rowehl for pulling it off. ®

Ed Moore is the commercial director of WiderWeb, the UK developer of software designed to simplify use of the Mobile Internet.

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