Which Hampers The Mobile Web More: Site Design Or Technology?
By Mike Masnick, Fri Mar 18 03:00:00 GMT 2005

Tim Berners-Lee claims that no one is designing web sites with the mobile user in mind -- and that's holding back mobile Web offerings. Could it be that technology is as much to blame?

Berners-Lee certainly isn't one to shy away from opinions concerning the World Wide Web, which he initially created. His latest claim is that the main issue holding back mobile Web usage is that web sites aren't designed with mobile devices in mind. In his view, it's similar to designing for accessibility. Web sites should be designed to make it easier for those who are visually impaired to read, for example. In the same way, Berners-Lee suggests, web sites should be designed to make it easier for mobile devices to display.

It certainly sounds sensible -- but there are many other issues involved as well. First off, Berners-Lee is clearly not suggesting that there be separate web sites "just for mobiles." In the past, he has argued vehemently against such ideas. Separate sites for a mobile world and an Internet world can create confusion and problems with user experience. A user who has an account with certain settings on the Internet doesn't want to have to reset those settings on a separate mobile web. However, at the same time, it is important to realize that people are likely to be using mobile web sites differently at times. While there is likely to be some overlap, mobile web site users are more likely to be using the sites to get some specific information quickly which is designed to help them with something they are doing, outside of the mobile Internet environment (for example: answering a question for someone who's there in person or checking a flight time to determine when to get to the airport). However, for users of web sites at a desktop computer, the situation may be different. Often the surfing is done to help with other tasks being performed at the computer itself. Since most web sites are designed for this environment they work well.

So how can web sites be designed for mobile situations without creating separate sites or without dumbing down the sites that are designed well for desktop usage? The answer might be more in the technology than in the design of the sites. Zoomable and scrollable interfaces are currently being designed -- though, they may be a long way from common usage. Flexible displays have been promised for years, but breakthroughs in the technology are finally coming together.

However, that doesn't mean web site design is entirely without fault. Recognizing that people aren't only using web sites for the sake of doing something on their computer, but perhaps to aid in some other activity will be a big step forward in site design, and will help both in situation at a desktop and on a mobile device. As with anything, these things will take time, but as the demand is there for better interfaces both in the technology and the design of sites, it seems likely that the mobile Internet will eventually accommodate.