Raising Awareness

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An Introduction to the Mobile Web

What is the Mobile Web?

Access to Web services used to be only through desk top computers. Improvement of laptop, personal digital assistant (PDA) and mobile phone technologies, alongside expansion of mobile networks, has meant that this is no longer the case. The number of mobile Web users is growing rapidly, now over half the globe pays to use one [1], and any organisation with a Web site will need to give consideration to mobile devices.

Challenges in Exploiting the Mobile Web

For most browsing the Internet using a mobile device is currently not an enjoyable experience [2]. The main challenges relate to interoperability and usability, and stem from the following issues:

  • Web technologies may be incompatible with mobile devices - JavaScript, cookies etc. may not work
  • There are serious device limitations - smaller screens, difficult to use keyboards, limited battery life etc.
  • Mobile network connection can be very slow and intermittent.

At present mobile data connectivity can be costly but this is likely to change. Whatever the challenges, users will increasingly want to access Web sites while on the move.

Opportunities Provided by the Mobile Web

Gaddo F Benedetti, Mobile Web expert, states that "what sells the mobile Web is not how it is similar to the desktop Web, but how it differs" [3]. A mobile device is transportable, personal, always on, prolific and these days often location aware. Such factors offer many opportunities for institutions and organisations who wish to allow their resources to be used in exciting new ways.

Mobile Web Sites

If you are a Web site provider there are a number of options available to you. You could chose to do nothing or merely reduce your images and styling to help with mobile viewing. There are a number of third party sites that will help with this.

Alternately you can create handheld style sheets using CSS or create mobile optimised content using XHTML or WML (wireless markup language) to deliver content. New browsers are moving towards using modifications of HTML. Each approach has its pros and cons which will need consideration.

The Mobi Approach

In July 2005 a number of big companies (Google, Microsoft, Nokia, Samsung, and Vodafone) sponsored the creation of the .mobi top-level domain dedicated to delivering the Internet to mobile devices. Mobi has received criticism because it goes against the principle of device independence.

W3C Mobile Web Initiative

The W3C Mobile Web Initiative [4] is a initiative set up by the W3C to develop best practices and technologies relevant to the Mobile Web. They offer a helpful set of mobile Web best practices and Mobile Web Checker tools. One project WC3 have been involved in is the development of a validation scheme: the Mobile OK scheme.

Creating Mobile Web Sites

If you are creating a mobile Internet site you will need to give some consideration of what information and services your stakeholders will want to consume while on the move, for example opening hours, directions, staff information etc. Currently there are very few dedicated UK cultural heritage mobile sites, however in the US there are more and a number of examples are listed on the Tame the Web blog [5].


  1. Nice talking to you ... mobile phone use passes milestone, Guardian, 3 Mar 2009,
  2. Mobile Usability, Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox,
  3. Mobile First, Web Second, Mobi Forge blog,
  4. Mobile Web Initiative, W3C,
  5. Mobile Versions of Library Web sites, Tame the Web,
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