I posted a mobile portal list a little while ago. I’ve heard a lot of people in mobile say there needs to be “something like the early Yahoo for mobile”. Which is to say a manually moderated hierarchal list of all the cool stuff that’s out there. There are a few points that go into that which I’m not sure everyone explicitly acknowledges or would agree with if they heard it stated directly:
- The mobile web is still small enough that it can be organized by humans instead of machines.
- Mechanisms such as tagging and other collective action systems aren’t the right way to introduce a user base to a new medium. Just give them a top down tree of what’s out there.
- That there should be a winning system providing the directory.
- That linking out to other resources instead of trying to collect information is the right way to expose the mobile web.
What of that do you agree with and what do you disagree with? I think that the mobile web evolving along the same lines as the desktop web is not a foregone conclusion. I remember the evolution of putting a website online back in the day and sending out links, and then adding metatags instead, getting others to link to you, changing your own link structure and tuning for searches to get users. The stuff online evolved in a particular way because of the environment it sits in. Link structure analysis became the smart way to determine relevance because there’s a lot of cross-linking on the web. It’s human behavior analysis at root, cause most pages are either generated by humans are automatically generated based on the actions of humans. Search became the default method of interaction because you can extract keyword based relevance from the link structure, and at a PC you have this big keyboard sitting right there in front of you.
However in a lot of areas of mobile things have tried to hop ahead and jam themselves straight into the end behavior of the wired web. Mobile search for instance is always an interesting one. Take a look at most sites meant to be used from mobile devices. How much cross linking is there? Not too much. How do you extract link structure information from those sites? You don’t, so if you’re going to rely on link structure you have to go with sites that were meant for desktops and transcode them if you really want the results to be “relevant”. Which means that if we cede search the way it is now as the defacto method of interface with the mobile web we’re really giving up most of the mobile optimized sites there are out there now. “Superior user experience” or not, they’re not going to end up with users based on search traffic from most of the current services.
Maybe that is the right way to go. As much as just about anyone in the world I’ve ever met, I would like to see the world of mobile services grow. I would like it to happen in a way that the services are all the things that are particularly appealing about mobile (situated, always available, immediate, personal, etc.) But maybe the way to get there is to swing the pendulum out the other way for a while. Right now the mobile world is pretty small, particularly on the mobile web side. Few people publish mobile content when compared to overall web content, few users browse the mobile web on a daily basis when compared to the number online or the number holding mobile handsets.
Just thinking out loud here, I have my own take on what needs to be done to get the mobile services area to explode in terms of growth. I got the end of my newsreader today and was tired of everyone blathering on about services and products yet to be released, so I figured I would spew drivel in some other direction. In my opinion the stuff that we’re really missing is mobile publishing tools and toolkits for building mobile specific services. It’s still one of the most difficult areas to address. There are very few mobile specific offerings out there. Here’s what the stuff needs to be:
- It needs to be open source. New developers in evolving markets need to be able to self-service and innovate at whatever level of the stack they want to address.
- It needs to work symmetrically across all areas. Mobile services have traditionally been highly regionally segmented because they’ve always just broken down along carrier lines. The mobile web is global, developers need to be able to hit that global market by default.
- It can’t drag around a lot of web baggage. There are tools out there that allow you to make a mobile version of web content, not horrible for some circumstances. But there needs to be 100% mobile versions of the common tools. Forum and discussion tools that I can setup and use from my phone without ever touching a PC, content management systems that work completely from a phone, blogging tools that don’t treat mobile use as a second class citizen.
- It needs to allow for users who have no knowledge of mobile specific features without forcing them to dive in too deep, but not restrict users with domain knowledge from doing special tuning.
There’s a lot out there that lets you get your content up online, but that’s only part of the problem really. At the Mobile 2.0 conference we spoke a lot about growing the ecosystem. And this appears to be one of the areas that’s really missing. Having an ecosystem doesn’t mean letting people toss content into the mix, it means people coming up with their own services, building on what others have done, and contributing meaningfully to the base set of services available to others.