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Old 04-25-2006, 10:37 AM   #1
Bob Russell
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New ".mobi" domain names are coming in May 2006

We've all heard about the .mobi domain - the new top level internet domain that will soon provide site names like www.cnn.mobi or www.espn.mobi that are targeted for mobile devices. But I haven't seen a lot of information about this topic in the popular press or online tech sites, so it seems to be time for a quick overview of the topic.

Availability of the .mobi domain, also referred to as "dotMobi", was announced at CTIA in Las Vegas on April 5. However, that doesn't mean you will be purchasing those dmain names yet. A few companies such as Nokia already have the names for use in testing, but they won't be widely available to the mobile industry until the limited mobile industry early registration period from May 22 to May 29. Then there will be a Sunrise registration period aimed at trademark owners. You need to have a trademark registered before July 11, 2005 to take part in this next registration period. Then from August 28th through September 10th, there is a "landrush" period that is open to the general public. This is a time during which anyone can apply, but due to the expected heavy demand, the prices are raised. If you are willing to pay the higher price, you can apply at this point. It's not until September 14th that the regular registration process kicks in.

So what is the intent of this new .mobi TLD (top level domain)? Here are some interesting exerpts from that press release, which include quotes from Neil Edwards, CEO, mTLD Ltd.

"The dotMobi Internet address, which is set for launch on May 22nd, brings the ease of accessing the Internet from the PC to mobile phones everywhere, and clearly indicates Internet sites and applications that are designed for consumers on the go...More people have access to an Internet-ready phone than to a PC with Internet access...

However, accessing the Internet on a mobile phone can be frustrating. Downloading content to mobile devices can be expensive, slow, exceed screen size, and difficult to navigate. "Many existing Internet sites are grounded in desktop PC-oriented services and were not designed with a mobile phone in mind, which has led to less than ideal performance for consumers," said Edwards. "The dotMobi sites are tailor-made for browsing and navigating on the mobile phone, making a far better experience."

To make creating Web sites for mobile Internet functional and reliable, mTLD has developed rules and best practices, all based on open standards, for content developers and service providers. This ensures that their Web sites can be viewed and navigated by any mobile phone. The consultative dotMobi Switch On! Web Browsing Guide may be found at mtld.mobi A guide for mobile messaging will be launched later this year. These guides are based on best practices specified by the World Wide Web Consortium's Mobile Web Initiative (MWI)."

But not everyone is so happy about the dotMobi domain. One of the fundamental principles guiding the domain naming is that of device independence . In other words, a domain name should not be targeted at specific devices. It should not matter what device is being used to get at the content, and there are many web technologies to make the content readable on all devices. For example, Wikipedia says that this can be accomplished by "using hostnames within an existing domain or content negotiation through the HTTP protocol." So the advice of some experts is to avoid the split and device dependence that would be introduced by a separate .mobi domain.

Russell Beattie, comes out in favor of the .mobi domain. in his commentary, he argues that dotMobi is a good thing. He observes that among the top mobile sites there is no consistency in the URL names, so it's not even easy to find the URL you want. (Actually, it's sometimes not so easy across the rest of the internet, either.) He also points out that a common set of guidelines for navigation and page layout is a good thing if the web is going to be usable for mobile devices.

Personally, I think that in the short run it's a good thing to have a universal set of standards. We need it now. But in the long run, I'm not sure. I seem to take a slightly different view of this debate.

First of all, I don't see it so much as a device dependency issue. To me, it is more of a category of content presentation. I don't have a problem with one or two top level domains set up for that purpose. Maybe another domain gets provided for a new class of 3-D content. In a way that's device dependent, but not really. I think of it more as being focused on the type of content.

Let me detour just for a moment on this 3-D thought... Wouldn't that be really cool, by the way, to have 3-D content sites on the web? Almost mind blowing to think about what can be done. And just because I think it will eventually come, and I've never heard anyone talk about it, let me put a stake in the ground point out that it's my idea and I think it's a great one! There will be a day when people first start making a 3-D content web and the historians point back to this day in April, 2006 when it was predicted first at MobileRead.com!

Okay, back to dotMobi. Having argued that this is not a device dependency issue, the next question is whether or not it's a good thing to have mobile standards. As I said, it can only help in the short run. We need something badly for usability. But is there really a need for a standard here? It's not like Blue-Ray specs or BPEL or EJB specs where the technology can only work if a standard prevails. In this case, we're generally only talking about two things. One is usability and convenience. The other is not forcing technologies on a site visitor that are not supported by the visiting device.

My personal opinion is that a standard is overkill in the long run. We should have, maybe, some competing sets of usability standards and let them fight it out for the best result. To impose a single standard at a domain level is fairly resetrictive and I think it will only hinder usability in the long run. So I see this as a short run vs long run issue.

But even so, I like the idea. You say, wait a minute -- didn't you just argue that it's only good in the short run, but limiting in the long run? Yes. That's exactly why I tend to think that it's a good thing. We need help in the short run. In the long run, I think these things will all get worked out and the current .mobi standards are going to be irrelevant anyway. Things in the mobile space are not very stagnant. They are revolutionary. Even form factor limitations in 10 years may not be what we think they will be. Projection and holographic and rollable displays might just change the typical device displays that are deployed in ways that we can't predict now.

So I'm not convinced what the best choice will be, but I'm going to enjoy the benefits of .mobi and its standards and not look back. For now, it's a good thing.

Hopefully, this article provides some of that background in an accessible form that has been missing from the topic in the popular press. I believe that some of the new thoughts presented will also provide a new take on the issue that willl make you think about these issues in a different way. And maybe it will even inspire you to imagine a whole new world of 3-D web sites! ;-)

As a side note, let me sadly point out that the excellent blog written by Russell Beattie has recently come to a close. The combination of his employment at Yahoo and his excellent writing and thoughts have made it a popular site. But after four years, he's decided to hang up blogging and has posted a goodbye statement. Thanks, Russell, for a great ride. We'll miss you.
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