I just spoke at Mobile Internet World here in Boston (as part of the W3C Mobile Web Standards track). Being part of this event brought me back to the first “Internet World” conference I ever attended in, wait for it, 1993 in New York City. I had been invited up there because my magazine, Quanta. At the time, the Web was a fringe at best. The event was meager, at best, but there was a definitely a sense that something important was happening. Mobile Internet World, in Boston in 2007, was considerably more impressive, but yet I had the same feeling of excitement. People were coming to this W3C session to learn about mobile Web standards and development. This crowd was not mobile industry people – I did not get the idea that I was preaching to the choir. I think that’s signifigant in the “mainstreaming” of the Mobile Internet. I’m interested to see if I get the same vibe at Future of Mobile tomorrow in London.

I started the week with Mobile 2.0. Rudy De Waele and Mike Rowehl posted great summaries of that event with lots of links to coverage all over the Web which I won’t replicate here. Suffice to say: it was a great day. My one complaint was that I don’t think we served the developer community very well. Next time, we may need to expand the event into multiple tracks and get some real developer interest topics going. As for the Web 2.0 conference which is just closing down today, it has been a mixed bag, but on balance I actually think it was better than last year. Lots of the conference has been focusing on APIs and the whole “Web as a platform” concept, which I think is a key area of innovation in the Web. We’re already seeing how efforts like Amazon Web Services and Facebook’s APIs are creating waves of innovation and that’s only accelerating. I found Facebook’s announcement on allowing users to export their data particularly interesting. Openness like this will be the trend for social networks moving forward and Facebook has clearly decided to be a part of this disruption. Devil is in the details, of course. Of course, the mobile content at the summit has been very superficial and disappointing. The panel on mobile social media could have been interesting but it was a little too much Nokia-focused (how could it not be as it was sponsored and organized by Nokia and featured Anssi as a panelist). It still could have …

[Mobile|Web] 2.0 Week: From Mobility to Semantics Read more »

“By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes.” Well, thumb-surfers the world over took a step closer to being able to experience rich Mobile Web applications last week with the release of the Web Integration Compound Document (WICD — pronounced wicked). I wrote about WICD in InformIT almost two years ago. It’s taken that long to shake out the bugs in the specification. In the mean time, a lot has happened on the mobile Web front, but the WICD specification is more important than ever. Why? Because it promises a predictable environment for creating rich Web applications across browser implementations that integrate rich vector-based graphics and animations that can scale to different screen sizes and layouts. It’s like Ajax on SVG steroids. Opera already provides partial support in Opera Mobile (and has committed full support), but in order to truly deliver on that promise, it needs to be deployed across multiple browser platforms. Now that it has gone to “Candidate Recommendation” stage in the W3C, it will have that chance.

[ad] James Pearce (CTO of dotMobi) wrote a great article yesterday about the impact of the iPhone on the industry and what it means for them. Of course, he’s right. What the iPhone is doing is helping the Web along to become a mobile medium. Does this make dotMobi or efforts like the W3C Mobile Web Initiative obsolete? Let me pose the question another way. In 5 years’ time, when the majority of Web usage is from mobile devices, will we all be using the browsers on these devices to pan, scan and zoom around pages that were designed for large screen desktop PCs? I think we can agree that this would be a kind of dystopian vision of the future of the Web. Apple certainly agrees. That’s why they released a set of guidelines on ptimizing Web Applications and Content for iPhone. These guidelines, while developed by Apple in house specifically to match the capabilities of the iPhone browser, bear a striking resemblance to the W3C Mobile Web Best Practices and the dotMobi Developer Guide in their approach, language and purpose. All these documents are trying to change the mind-set of developers to get them to think about both the technical differences between mobile devices and PCs (for example, Apple saying “a touch-screen is not a mouse”) and also the differences in usage and behavior that need to be taken into account in designing for mobile use. The main difference between the Apple guidelines and the dotMobi and W3C documents are the level of browser …

The iPhone, dotMobi and the Future of the Mobile Web Read more »

On Sunday I head off to Banff, Canada for the WWW2007 conference. This is going to be one busy week — I’m attending and giving a “lightning talk” at the W3C Advisory Committee meeting, then co-chairing a workshop on the role of the Mobile Web in the developing world with Rittwik Jana from AT&T research, then speaking at the conference itself on the progress and future of the Mobile Web Best Practices working group and finally chairing a panel on Mobile Ajax before heading back home. In between all this, I’ll be trying to soak in some of the raw innovation and excitement at the WWW conference. The thing about WWW is that it’s not a glitzy place where you go to mix with rockstars and digerati. It’s where academia and industry meet to hash out the future of Web technologies. I am really looking forward to it.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the mobile user experience, particularly the experience of the Web on the (typical) mobile device. I say “typical” because I’m not talking about the iphone here — I’m talking about the kind of mass-market device that billions of real users hold in their hands every day. Increasingly these are devices that are capable of a reasonable data services experience, but they are still not being used to their potential. What is the new user paradigm that will truly kick start the mobile Web? The essential innovation of the Web itself was putting together two existing technologies: hypertext and the Internet. Hypertext had been around for a while, in library-science and computer science circles and even in such products as Hypercard. Likewise, the Internet was around and widely used (mostly by academics and students) through well understood but essentially plain text paradigms such as FTP, Telnet and Gopher. Both these technologies by themselves were limited in their appeal. But somehow, layering Hypertext on top of the Internet (the Web) created something that was greater than the sum of its parts, and the Web as we know it was born. Yes, there were other factors at work in the birth of the Web but I believe it was the marriage of these two technologies that was the crucial factor. When we come to the mobile Web, however — that is, usage of the Web on devices which are intended to be used one-handed, often with a four-way rocker switch instead of …

Wanted: a New User Experience Metaphor for the Mobile Web Read more »

Arun at AOL ran a great panel today titled Browser Wars Past and Present. There actually wasn’t much discussion of past browser wars, but there was lots of good discussion on the future of Web standards and HTML standards in particular. Opera, Microsoft and Mozilla on the same panel – great stuff. So when question time came around, I asked about when these guys are going to implement the WICD specification that we’ve (with the exception of MS) have been working on jointly in W3C for the past 2 years. To Charles’s credit, he said Opera is implementing it – great to hear it. But what I heard from Brendan Eich, CTO of Mozilla, floored me. He actually said that he doesn’t believe people are going to browse the Web on their phone. He sat there and said “I don’t believe people want to use Wikipedia from their phone.” Well — speaking as someone who has authored Wikipedia pages on mobile devices, of course my point of view is that this guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about with regard to mobile, which is a bit sad because he’s obviously a smart guy in other respects. It’s typical of the willful denial that’s all too prevalent in the “Web” community about mobile, and it stems from a misapprehension about the nature of the platform. Yes, the mobile is not suited to the kind of Web browsing that people are used to on the PC. It is suited to a different kind of Web usage and interaction …

Browser Panel at SXSW Read more »

After a great meeting of the Mobile Web Best Practices working group last week, the group decided to issue a “Last Call” working draft of the mobileOK Basic specification. This spec is basically a series of tests you can perform on content to evaluate how well it implements the best practices themselves. Because many of the best practices are not machine testable, these test necessarily only represent a subset of the best practices, but they’re a good place to start (hence “basic”). The specification (actually “mobileOK Basic Tests 1.0”) is intended to raise the quality bar on mobile Web content. I invite you to review it and send comments in to the public W3C mailing list (public-bpwg-comments@w3.org).

Thanks to the alert reader who sent in the following tidbit: a job posting in Seattle that asks for knowledge of the “W3C Best Practices” (as well as refencing both dotMobi and Mobile 2.0). This is the first time I’ve seen a job posting that specifically asks for knowledge of the work we’ve done in the Mobile Web Best Practices working group. The word is definitely getting around.