So far, the viewing experience of content on the mobile phone has left much to be desired. WML was a hard language to create content in, and the wide variety of implementations in browsers made for looks that weren’t necessarily consistent or as desired by the content creators. This is changing with the emergence of XHTML and CSS. Most phone browsers now support XHTML pages. That will increasingly become the standard for mobile phones.
Mobile viewing is very different from that of a PC. On a PC, a user has tens of links equidistant on a large screen. The mouse can easily select one of these links. On a mobile, this is not so. Links necessarily tend to be sequential and thus the links lower down on a page need scrolling to get to them. Thus, designing pages for the mobile requires a much deeper understanding of what the user is likely to do.
Publishing is much more than just creating XHTML pages. Given the small screen size, a lot of thought needs to be given to navigation and context. Navigation is about getting the user quickly to the information desired in the fewest clicks possible. Context is about understanding what the user is likely to want. For example, for a TV Guide, instead of showing the entire set of programmes for the day or week, only those programmes that are currently under way or likely to start in the next hour should be shown.
An interesting way to look at News and RSS feeds is the River of News. Originally coined by Dave Winer, the River of News view is about showing the newest items organised by source. In this view, the assumption is that there is a steady stream of items that are coming in, and the user is shown the newest items from across the sources. The River of News combined with ‘subscriptions’ (what the user chooses) can be especially powerful for the mobile.
Subscriptions is a form of Personalisation. Subscriptions can be thought of as relationships with future content (as opposed to Search, which works on the past). Subscriptions are to the incremental web what Search is to the reference web. As publishing becomes easier, we will see a proliferation of ‘real-time’ content. This is where subscriptions will come into their own. Subscriptions will need the equivalent of an RSS aggregator to provide the right viewing experience. It will need the ability to track what items (and feeds) a user has seen and not seen. The aggregator will, therefore, need to optimise the user’s attention which at different times could range from as little as a minute to as much as an hour. For static pages, Personalisation will take the form of Bookmarks very similar to that what we see in browsers.
Tomorrow: Business Models
TECH TALK: Mobile Internet+T