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Saturday, July 02, 2005

Bite-sized content

Have you ever tried to surf the web from your cellphone? Chances are, if you have, you were probably disappointed by the experience.

At the moment a lot of carriers are still only providing access to a portal of partner sites for their subscribers. The largest and most successful data service, NTT DoCoMo, provides a 'walled-garden' portal of content but also allows access to the regular internet. The problem is that most regular sites are not designed for mobile access and are only suitable for the larger screens of PCs, and those that are specifically made for mobile phones are hard to find.

Google is trying to break into the mobile market by offering a mobile version of their search engine that also translates the PC version of a site into a cut-down version for viewing on your handset. The feedback I have been reading so far has been mixed, I personally have not been that impressed by what I have been able to find so far, the translated pages I have been reading just don't 'gell' together well. Having said that I do think this is an excellent idea and with projects like the W3C's Mobile Web Initiative trying to standardise content so that it is readable by mobile devices as well as PCs we will soon be able to read normal content on the mobile phone.

As the carriers increase the capacity and speeds of their networks and as more sites adopt common web standards the next question we have to ask is, will the content of the 'full sized' internet be relevant to the mobile user?

The mobile user tends to surf for information when they are out and about and when they are waiting for something, the most common time for the Japanese and Koreans to surf on their mobile is in the train on the way to and from work. The user is usually looking for quick hits of information or entertainment and the successful sites know this and make it quick and easy to find. The user does not want to be sifting through countless layers of menus, have to click and load too many pages or have to type in or read lots of text. Granted the user will have to click through some links or type something in to find the content they are looking for but good design will mean they can get to the content with the least amount of clicks. The sites that do this are the ones that get bookmarked and being bookmarked from a mobile should be a much coveted thing as the memory space dictates ( for now at least ) that only the best sites get saved.

Getting your site featured on one of the main carriers home portals is the best way you can attract customers to your content but this is a highly competitive area and the service requirements placed on your organisation will block most small companies from access. This leads me to think that there is still space for new, high quality portals in the market and novel ways to link through to content. Maybe some form of context-based click-through portal would be good, where the dynamic links take you to information you have already expressed an interest in, either through previous searches or through filters you set when registering.

The typical user on the train looking for something to distract him or her from the journey is looking for 'bite-sized' packets of information, they do not want lengthy discourse on a topic - they carry books for that. So it is vital to tailor your mobile content for this audience.

Content has become more diluted with each phase of its delivery from the first printing presses through television and the internet information has become more widespread and more specialised. From a time when the only book you could read ( if you could afford it ) was the bible through to a time where you could look up the different sub-cultures of algae found in ponds, if you really wanted to.

With the new mobile media still in its infancy some argue that this model will continue, the internet as we know it will remain but with a new method of access, others argue that a totally new model will be needed one that caters for a new audience of short term users.

I personally think that both points of view are valid. The mobile internet will give the specialists even easier access to their topics of interest and at the same time a new style of site will evolve to fulfill the masses who will surf for short term distraction.

However, my money is with the short term users because of the simple fact that the small screen and keyboard really isn't suited for serious use. I have tried to work using my phone, I have also tried to publish to this blog using my phone and the experience in both cases has been painful.


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