.mobi Aims to Standardize Mobile Web

AT CTIA WIRELESS With mobile phones becoming ever more ubiquitous in today's society, so has the consumer's desire to access the Internet while on the go. However, so far the experience has been lacking. .mobi's Alexa Raad thinks her company is about to solve that, and she sat down with BetaNews to tell us why.

"It's not the lack of devices," says Raad, vice president of business development at .mobi -- a new top-level domain set to launch next month. Prices of phones have dropped dramatically in recent years. "It's not because of bandwidth either," she continued, pointing to the emergence of high-speed 3G data.

Raad argues that the problem lies in ease of use. "It's really hard to use the Internet on a phone," she explains. "The user experience through the mobile phone is lacking."

Thus, Raad and the rest of the .mobi management team have set out at this year's CTIA Wireless conference in Las Vegas to offer a solution. With the .mobi domain, they hope to entice content providers to develop for the mobile platform while ensuring Web users are getting an optimal experience while on the go.

The initiative has the backing of 13 major players in the industry, including Ericsson, Google, Microsoft, Nokia, Samsung, T-Mobile, and Vodafone among others.

Not just anybody will be able to obtain a domain with .mobi. In order to register, a potential content provider must agree to follow a set of rules. "There would be developer guides," Raad says.

Initially, the group will enforce three rules for Web sites residing within .mobi. The guidelines also include a set of best practices as well, which are not required but recommended of domain holders.

"The best practices are based on the mobile Web initiative of the W3C," Raad explained.

The rules are fairly straightforward; first and foremost, pages must be programmed in XHTML. Raad explained that this was done to ensure that nearly all Web-enabled phones would be able to view the content. Second, frames are prohibited as they crash mobile browsers. Lastly, a domain should be accessible without typing 'www' first.

Raad says this has been done to ensure the end user finds the .mobi experience easy to use as well as inexpensive. "[Sites will be] clean and easy to navigate. You won't be stuck with a huge bill."

Several sites have been put up as proof-of-concept Web sites before the domain's official launch on May 22. Those include weather.mobi, a mobile weather site hosted by The Weather Channel; cityguide.mobi, a concept local information site; and tim.mobi, a site set up by investor and mobile network Telecom Italia.

While .mobi is very much a registry like VeriSign is for .com and .net, Raad said registering many domains wouldn't be a measure of success. "Our goal is to kickstart the use of the Internet via mobile phone. The most important thing is good mobile content, not how many domains we register."

When registration begins May 22, there will be a one week period where the mobile industry will be able to register their trademarks. This would be followed by a window for general trademark holders from June 12 through August 21.

Raad said general availability of .mobi domains would not occur until September 14, although a "landrush" period will take place where highly desirable domains could be registered at a premium price.

As for cost, Raad said the registrar would have a wholesale cost to resellers, but no price has been set. "It should be the same as your average .com package," she noted.

The question now remains as to whether .mobi is actually a good idea. In a post to his blog last Friday, Web pundit Russell Beattie thought the idea was a "step forward for the mobile Web."

"We'll finally have a standard format for initial mobile Web navigation," he wrote. "There's been no way to know exactly what the URL was for the mobile version of a website. There may be a bunch of redirect or handset detection magic that happens (or not), but the end URLs are all over the place."

Beattie also argued that .mobi served a "real purpose, rather than just being just an unneeded alternative to .com."

In any case, Raad said the company envisions a future where phones come .mobi-compliant, and a user could simply click a link on a Web site intended for desktop use to have a mobile bookmark sent and stored on their cellular phone.

"The vision is for .mobi to become a trust mark," she said, just like those of other accepted Web standards.

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