What’s .mobi Playing At Now?

It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of .mobi. I haven’t had much to add since I posted on it back in May, so I’ve avoided writing about it here. But the mobile-specific domain’s administrators have done a couple things recently I want to draw attention to.

Last week, over at Techdirt, I posted on .mobi’s plans to distribute “premium” domains in what they call an “equitable” manner intended to ensure the little guy has a shot at securing some of them: through beauty contests and something completely geared towards “the little guy” — auctions. We’re not talking about a dozen, a few dozen, or even a few hundred, but 5,000 domain names. While I appreciate mTLD’s CEO, Neil Edwards responding to my post, I find his response pretty unsatisfying. This auction system, according to him, isn’t a money-grab for two reasons: first, .mobi could have held back 100,000 names instead of 5,000; and second, because if mTLD didn’t do this, the names would just have ended up in the hands of domain speculators, who would resell them for inflated prices later on. Basically, it sounds like he’s saying mTLD isn’t as greedy as they could be, and that instead of letting the domain speculators pocket that cash, it’s going to maximize its own revenues through an auction.

But, after that, they’ve still outdone themselves in announcing the “.mobi mobile emulator”. The emulator is on the .mobi site, surrounded with some, ahem, interesting copy:

If you’re not happy with what you see, – if you see anything at all – it’s time to join the dotMobi Community by getting your .mobi domain name and optimizing your site for the mobile Internet.

.mobi sites solve the biggest barriers to mobile Internet use:

* Poorly formatted pages
* Inappropriate or excessive content
* Slow access and long load times , leading to costly mobile bills
* Difficult logins
* Difficult navigation

If there’s anything flakier and more inconsistent than the browsers in mobile handsets, it’s the emulators of those browsers. So slapping an emulator on a web page, then acting as if it not rendering a site correctly is proof somebody needs to buy a .mobi domain a little off base in concept. In reality, it’s actually even worse, since the .mobi emulator doesn’t call up the proper content on some sites that automatically serve correctly formatted content to mobile devices. This, of course, behooves .mobi by making the supposed problem it’s trying to solve appear more glaring — creating a view of the mobile internet that isn’t accurate, but better suits its marketing.

The .mobi emulator is made to look like a Nokia N70. I happen to have a Nokia N70 sitting here on my desk, so let’s do some comparisons.

When I go to “bbcnews.com” in the N70’s browser, I get redirected to http://www.bbc.co.uk/mobile, and end up with the image below on the left — just what I’d want, really. In the emulator, instead of getting the mobile content, I get an error message you see on the right. So there’s one mobile site, available in the same place it is on the desktop, .mobi pretends doesn’t exist.
bbc-n70.jpg bbc-emu.jpg

Ok, now let’s try our own site. On the left, you get the humble, basic mobile-formatted content on the real mobile browser; the right, another error.
mh-n70.jpg mh-emu.jpg

One more — the .mobi folks often point to weather.mobi as an example of a .mobi site. But what if I’m an average Joe that’s never heard any of this .mobi stuff, and I want to go to weather.com instead? Works just fine on the phone (below left), whereas, somewhat embarrassingly, it doesn’t in the emulator. So here’s a site that’s got a good mobile site, has bought into the .mobi hype, and still they can’t get it right, apparently.
weather-n70.jpg weather-emu.jpg

It’s not newsworthy, or surprising, that this emulator doesn’t work well. But the fact that it craps out on perfectly good mobile sites, available at their standard addresses — for whatever reason — then says .mobi is the solution, does not sit well at all. These sites have followed an ideal solution: making their content available to mobile users in a relevant format at a familiar address. But since that solution doesn’t involve buying a .mobi domain, it is apparently inferior or undesirable. The fact is, overcoming “the barriers to mobile internet use” .mobi cites on this page have nothing to do with .mobi. It doesn’t solve any of them, it’s just a domain (and an expensive one at that) which doesn’t intrinsically or automatically accomplish anything for site owners. Making a site mobile-friendly has nothing to do with whether it’s available at a .mobi address, and simply buying a .mobi domain won’t solve site owners’ problems — which is hardly the impression this page attempts to deliver.

I’m not going to accuse the .mobi folks of acting maliciously in this instance, but they’re toeing the line by providing an inaccurate representation of the state of the mobile internet, then holding themselves up as the solution.

[tags]mobile, mobile web, mobile internet, .mobi, mtld, xhtml, wap[/tags]

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