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Mobile Web Design: Be Swift About It!

Sat 14th , February 2009

By: Halla Kolbeinsdotir


When one country's economic downturn affects the rest of the globe immensely, its apparent we all live in an intertwined system. The Internet and the personal computer have played a big role in bringing us all together, but still a large portion of people are being left out due to the high cost of a PC.

The mobile phone is changing this, allowing citizens everywhere to access the Internet, turning the planet into a truly global village where everyone can communicate with each other. Whether it%u2019s teenagers in South London, families in Buenos Aires, or businessmen in Kampala, computer users across the globe can now obtain information via the Internet on their mobile phones. This might even be more exciting than the One Laptop per Child project. Now, more than ever, knowledge can be accessible to all. This is good news, but what are the ramifications of expanding mobile web access for web site developers? The Road to Standardization As you%u2019d expect, there are still some hurdles that need to be overcome in order to truly become a global online community through the mobile web. The small screen size and lack of JavaScript support means that most web sites created for a computer work inadequately when viewed on a phone; a full-sized web site requires the user to scroll up/down and left/right to view the whole content. Also, most internet operators%u2019 networks are closed, meaning %u2026 and each operator has its own rules. And internet costs can vary widely, depending on the operator, the country, and roaming charges. Subtle differences between manufacturer%u2019s mobile phones and how browsers interpret web pages can add up; some even strip out device information%u2014making it impossible to serve your site correctly to their customers. Promoting your mobile site to a large number of people is difficult, and the screen size and resolution you have to work with is tiny. Of course, looking at the negatives might make it seem there are too many obstacles to bother with, especially for a designer, but the medium%u2019s potential is great. It%u2019s like the Wild West out there, complete with all its opportunities. Can you remember the Internet of 1995? Compare that to the Web today. There%u2019s been a giant leap in usability, uses, and ubiquity. Without global participation, the progress we see today would not have been made. There are organizations working towards a larger scale road map for standardization in the mobile industry.

The mobile section of W3C is developing the best practices for mobile-ready web sites. The Mobile Marketing Association is tackling marketing issues, thinking about the profitability angle, which is essential for the medium to survive and expand. A greater understanding of what the Internet via your mobile device really means has to%u2014and will%u2014happen. What will it mean to you as a web designer or marketing professional? What about the average mobile phone user? What does the average user want from this medium? How can we make it better? The only way to answer these questions is to take part in the evolution yourself. Regardless of who you are or what you do for a living, the Web on the go is for people like you. Even Your Parents Could Do It Become familiar with the medium by creating your own mobile-ready standards-compliant web site. It%u2019s surprisingly easy. There are several companies out there that offer excellent site builder wizards. They%u2019ll host your new mobile web site for free, often in exchange for an ad on your page, or give you the option of hosting yourself or using your own domain name. Swift gives you a quite powerful interface to make your own mobile-ready web site. Other site builders are available%u2014I%u2019ll look at these later on%u2014but I%u2019ll use Swift to demonstrate how you can create a mobile-friendly site. Before going any further I%u2019ll give you the full disclaimer: I used to work over at Proteus (now known as 2ergo), the company behind Swift. I was involved with other projects, but I always kept an eye on Swift%u2019s development because I like how it puts the power in people%u2019s hands. I liken the situation to how it would have been if Macromedia gave Dreamweaver away for free back in 1997; 2ergo are giving away a tool that allows anyone to create a standards-compliant web site, specially formatted for every browser or device it might possibly be viewed on. That%u2019s a big deal. Try It, I Dare You! A very powerful aspect of Swift is that it allows you to pull in an RSS feed for content. This means that if you have a blog, you can create a mobile-ready version in a few simple steps. Or, you could create a site that consists of your favorite blog, news sites, or any other content available via RSS. Nifty!

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