Most of us have one, but other than texting, calls and primitive PDA functions for smartphone users, what can you do with your phone? Is the mobile web going to take off or be used only by those with a large enough screen and 3G connection? Recently, there has been debate about the future of the mobile web, most feel that development of mobile-only sites will fall by the wayside while standards-compliant, flexible sites that can be used on any device will become more popular. I’m betting on the latter.

For a time, I had a subscription to a localised version of i-Mode, which provided mobile-only versions of sites and charged subscription rates to each site. It was a success in Japan, where many users use a mobile much more than a PC, but failed quickly in Australia where users wanted to access sites in a similar way on their mobiles as their PC. Development now is about optimising existing sites for mobile access.

Why the mobile web matters

The mobile web has the potential to bridge part of the digital divide, especially in developing nations. People may be distant from broadband or a computer, but they are increasingly likely to have a mobile phone. As I’ve written previously, mobiles are being used for social organising, health information and other essential communication.

The development of the mobile web is helped by;

  • Use of text, to communicate with others users and internet sites
  • 3G network development
  • The availability of software designed for mobile web browsing, eg - Opera Mini, .mobi, Symbian
  • Increasing ownership of mobile-ready devices

The mobile web has the potential to be part of the semantic web, because of the potential for resource discovery. NTT DoCoMo, one of Japan’s largest telecommunication companies gives the example of discovering music [PDF] through Internet radio as a way of building ontologies and preferences.

What libraries are doing with the mobile web

Libraries are developing SMS reference services, mobile-friendly OPACs, and optimising content for mobile phone screens [PPT] . QR-Codes have potential for libraries - barcodes embedded in handouts or posters can send mobile users to further links, audio and information.

Further reading:

Is your site ready?

Mobile web emulators can help you to troubleshoot how your site displays on different devices, and Opera provides a simulator for the mobile version of their browser, Opera Mini. Test your site to see if it is mobile ready.

Guidelines and resources

Mobile Web Best Practices 1.0 Basic Guidelines W3C Proposed Recommendation, 2 November 2006
W3C Mobile Web Initiative

Blogs to watch

Got more resources you’d like to share? Add them to the wiki or leave a comment!

Originally published on the semanticlibrary.net blog