Can Dot.Mobi catch on and make cellphone surfing popular?

By David Catzel

Sports leagues and broadcasters are now turning their attention to a new Internet domain, Dot.mobi, which is aimed at improving the often frustrating experience of mobile Web surfing by establishing a standard designed to ensure a predictable and consistent mobile Web surfing experience.

Launched in November of 2005, Dot.mobi is sponsored by a consortium of companies including Google, Microsoft, Vodafone, Samsung, Ericsson and Nokia and has been approved by ICANN, the international organization that regulates Internet domains. The domain was added to the global Internet root in November 2005 and general registration was available by Q3 2006. The objective is to provide a more consistent and predictable experience for users who utilize cell phones and related devices to access content on the Internet.

Dot.mobi proponents claim that the domain will help the user because Dot.mobi sites will render consistently on a mobile device, and efficiently manage both battery life and data transfer costs. To further adoption, Dot.mobi is supplying developers with free tools helping and educates the marketplace about the opportunities of the Internet made mobile.

The Horizon League, a nine school, NCAA Division I college athletic conference, whose members are located in five of the Midwestern States, is an early adopter. While the league does not have as broad a broadcast penetration it would like, it is compensating by broadband streaming over 230 events this academic year. To further enhance accessibility to the leagues games, it is making content available for mobile devices via a dot.mobi site. WiIl Roleson, Associate Commissioner for Communications and Multimedia, for the Horizon League says “We may not be the biggest of leagues but we plan to make up for size with innovation… and the mobile fan is the next frontier.” Too see what they’re up to visit www.horizonleague.mobi

The objective of dot.mobi is to make the mobile device as useful as a PC for browsing and data services, but with the advantage of being more portable. The key differentiator for the dot.mobi domain is the mobile user experience. This is driven by dotMobi Switch On! Guides which contain a mixture of mandatory and recommended best practices for developing mobile content and services.

In its short life, dot.mobi has already sparked criticism due to allegedly breaking the principles of ‘device independence.’ Some argue that providing content tailored to particular devices can and should be done by other means than a specific TLD (Top Level Domain), such as using hostnames within an existing domain, content negotiation through the HTTP protocol, cascading style sheets or other forms of adaptation.

Responding to the early criticism, dot.mobi engaged with the W3C Mobile Web Initiative (MWI) and took a leading role in formulating the MWI Best Practices for mobile content. The practices outlined a number of ways to achieve good user experiences on mobile Web-enabled devices, and recognized several methods of implementing these practices. The dot.mobi “Switch On!” guidelines are derived from the W3C Best Practices.

The methods of achieving these Best Practices are used today by major providers of mobile content, including mTLD company’s own website mtld.mobi. Their site redirects some clients to pc.mtld.mobi site, which is intended for fixed-Web clients and is unsuitable for mobile browsers.

There is also the argument that mobile browser advances remove the need for mobile-friendly sites. Phones are becoming more capable and some high end phones can render existing desktop-focused sites without a problem. There is some validity to the argument. Some of the more recent smart phones (e.g. the Nokia N90 and N70 series) are being shipped with the Web Kit browser that can render normal desktop sites such as Amazon without any problems. However, these advanced phones represent a tiny percentage of the more than two billion phones in use around the world. While these advanced abilities will likely trickle down to other phones, but this will take a long time. The fact of the matter is that phones will always have different functionality, limitations and usage models than PCs due to the physical size limitations and which predicate a smaller screen and keyboard

Usage models are worthy of note. Just because you can visit a Web site on your mobile phone, does not mean that you will. Mobile is different and mobile Web browsing is less about random surfing than specifically targeted, time & location-specific tasks. To be mobile-friendly and useful, a site needs to be designed for specifically for mobile, and not just be a Web site squeezed into a smaller space.

The final issue is data costs because of all the graphics that need to be downloaded from a traditional site. Cost saving alone of a Dot.mobi site could be a compelling reason for adoption

Cell phones usage is pervasive and it would be hard to find anyone who does not use the Internet as an integral part of their everyday life. However, few people are actually using their cell phones to surf the Net, and the reason is often that accessing content on the Web from a mobile handset is cumbersome and time consuming. This is further compounded by the fact that many sites require a long WAP address (Wireless Application Protocol) and others need only a typical dot-com address. The new dot-mobi domain could solve this problem because end users will know that if they use an address with the dot-mobi suffix, it will be formatted especially for mobile devices.

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