Wireless Wonders

No news, just comment about mobile phones and services, from a veteran practitioner...3G, GPRS, WAP, Bluetooth, WiFi, etc...

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

A Useful Mobile Web (idea #90)

There's still an obsession with "mobile web", recently upgraded to "mobile web 2.0". Now, I don't have anything against taking the emerging app-centric web techniques and moving them onto mobile devices, which is a somewhat natural progression. As some observers (e.g. Ajit Jaoker) have pointed out, Web 2.0 might be a good fit for mobile.

However, I come back to a simple argument that I elucidated in my book about the fundamental differences between a mobile web experience and a desktop one. You can read it for yourself, but I can sum it up in terms of intention and tolerance. In the mobile setting the user is frequently motivated by an intent to find something out fast because they want to do something else there and then, like make a phone call, book a flight, catch a train etc. This "saving time" objective is distinct from the "killing time" one. In the "saving time" frame of mind, there's almost zero tolerance to anything remotely like surfing (i.e. faffing) around. In that setting, the whole web paradigm falls apart very quickly, especially if it's actually the standard mega-screen web experience shoe-horned into a mobile nano-screen.

As Jakob Nielsen and other usability gurus have told us over and over, most visits to business websites are motivated by a desire to answer a few simple questions - what do you do, how much does it cost, how do I get it, who do I talk to, where are you based? etc. It is likely that "saving time" visits to the "mobile web" are mostly to business sites, not wacko wirelesswonder blog or similar meanders through the bitstream (although you're most welcome and you can get this on your mobile if you dare, via Winksites).

Therefore, it seems perfectly obvious that any self-respecting site that wants to extend its wares to the billion mobile windows in the world should contain metadata to answer these simple questions and this is all that gets dished up to a mobile device, most likely ranked in order of most actionable data first, like phone number (one click to dial it), then address (one link to map it) and so on. After all, the world of going to sites via search engines is a rather uncluttered affair of visually uninteresting, but apparently useful, text-only descriptions and links - albeit presumably relevant ones. Once at the destination site we are looking for answers to those questions, not fluffy flash movies and the like. How much of this fluff is already discounted by the ranking in the search anyway?

No doubt, for unfamiliar businesses we do need a means to anchor our trust in their wares. Nice fluff might add to this process - a "professional" site is always better than a "bedroom" one. In the absence of such eye-candy, perhaps a mobile operator could add some value here. What about some additional relevancy ranking using "calls to" weightings similar to search engine "links to" weightings? Is a flower shop that receives 100 calls to its number a day more useful than one that only gets 10? Perhaps.

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