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Mobile Web
A number of years ago I was using the record library in Norwich, when everything was still on microfiche. This involved me scrutinised old newspapers using microfiche viewers.

I'd forgotten this until I got to play around with an iPhone. The web browsing experience on this object of desire is incredibly reminiscent of the ancient machines I used in the record library in Norwich. Scrolling, zooming in, reading, zooming out, scrolling, zooming in, reading some more and so on. I couldn't help thinking that this approach to internet consumption on a handheld device is actually a step backwards. Side scroll is a cardinal sin, right? If so, then "pogoing" in and out ought to be, too.

Please don't get me wrong. I love the fact that our mobile handsets are now net connected. It's great for pub quizzes, for one thing.

However, as things stand, there are only a few people populating the mobile internet that really "get it". These are forward-thinking brands that are developing sites aimed at a mobile audience — where they're not simply trying to replicate, or even transcode, an existing website onto mobile devices. It's services like these that represent the birth of the true mobile internet. They differentiate themselves from a desk-based web experience and truly provide what mobile users are looking for.

Let me try to put this into perspective. When it comes to the internet, the only things our phone browsers share with desk-based browsers are the protocols for delivering data. So, to be successful with a site intended for a mobile audience, it's important to recognise the fundamental differences. Dealing with the obvious items first: mobile browsers have smaller screens, they lack a true mouse and pointer, and the navigation is limited to vertical link selection on all but the higher-end handsets.

This dramatically affects the way mobile users interact with an internet site. A page layout that suits a login screen isn't going to translate to something that feels comfortable on a handset. Visibility is important, and on a mobile device, the limited screen space enforces a typically vertical navigation experience. It's essential to weigh the important and relevant content towards the upper part of the page. When the physical differences are taken care of, the issue of what users actually want should be considered. Once again, looking at the differences between a mobile internet experience and that of a web-based browser should be carefully considered.

Mobile users are typically "on the go" and therefore time limited. With this in mind, you should expect a visitor to be more demanding regarding how quickly they can locate and consume information. Desk-based visitors are more forgiving and likely to browse "off track" as the opportunity arises, but expect a mobile visitor to bounce quickly if you're not providing a streamlined experience.

To create an engaging mobile site, you should consider why a visitor has arrived and what they're looking for. If you think about it, you'll realise that it's often quite different to why a web browser might arrive. If I'm on a bus and I visit on my mobile, you can bet it's because I want to find out what's on TV tonight — not that I give two hoots about a free dish installation offer or the latest celebrity gossip.

The above distinctions can be the make or break of a successful mobile internet site, but they're not the only rules. If I was to suggest one thing to think about above all else, it would be this: think of the mobile experience as one that's totally separate from the desk-based internet — sharing elements and back-end functionality, yet not structure and not necessarily purpose.
Webnetics UK Ltd.

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