If you take a look at mobile websites on the whole you see a structure very much unlike websites meant for desktop browsers. Desktop websites do a lot of linking to each other, they feel very much like, well, a web. Thus the name. Mobile sites however tend not to cross link very much. In web terms they look very much like closed silos. Much of the recent movement on the desktop web has been away from silos of information and into services that allow users and other developers to make use of the applications you’ve provided in a novel way. We’re not yet seeing this on the mobile web however. Mobile websites are using the technologies of the wired web to deliver applications, but effectively ignoring or contradicting everything else about the web that has made it work long term. I think taking some of those learnings from the desktop web and applying them to mobile is necessary for the progress of the ecosystem and one of the primary reasons I joined Russ at Mowser.
Why is cross linking important behavior? If you take a look at the early discussions about why to use hypertext on the web and the decisions that went into the overall architecture there’s a lot of mentions that “anyone can link to anything else without needing permission”. It’s such an ingrained principal at this point that it’s easy to ignore. You don’t need the permission of the owner of the page you’re linking to, you don’t have to worry about whether the users browser will follow the link or not, and you don’t have to get anyone’s permission to use HTML to make the links in your pages. Simple and stupid right? The overall theme is one of lowering the barrier for a publisher to make available new information on the web, and to be able to benefit from the network effects of that information. Every time one publisher puts a new web page online there’s an incremental increase in the value of the web. There’s a new page that others can link to, a new page to be indexed, a new source of information to be mixed up or referenced directly.
If you take a look at the mobile environment however this isn’t the norm from top to bottom. As Tim O’Reilly mentions in his article about openness in the carrier environment at the NY Times things are starting to get better. But it’s still true that there are carriers out there who are not open. Effectively, yes, you DO need their permission to link out from your website to others or to allow others to link to you. Or they deliver different information to different websites depending on their trust of the publisher. It’s directly in contradiction to one of the base first principles of the web.
But even if we get around those issues and the environment across all the carriers and operators becomes sane there’s still a problem with the publisher effort required. The question shifts however to “will this link work across the different phones that my users have”. If someone putting up a new mobile website is able to link only to the other sites out there that already have mobile versions the value of the site that they can create is much lower than if they were able to link to content at all the existing web sites.
Once the mobile web becomes more webbish the trends that we’re seeing now toward openness in the mobile environment become even harder to control or reverse. One of the big chunks of necessary infrastructure was already cracked with AdMob and AdSense for Mobile offering direct monetization for a mobile audience. But there’s still a discovery and distribution problem in mobile. Evolving the ecosystem requires lighting up more mobile content and encouraging content providers to cross-promote and focus on trying to serve their users (rather than just selling them something). That’s why we’ve made it very easy to use Mowser to create mobile friendly links between pages and to make a mobile version of your site. You don’t need to sign up, you keep all the advertising revenue from your pages, and you can link up whatever you want and we’ll make sure everything works.