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August 18, 2006

Mobile domain debate is heating up

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 11:31 AM

Here's a topic that doesn't come up too often in mobile, but there seems to be a lot of buzz on the Internet recently.

It's about .mobi, the mobile domain created through a joint venture of companies including Microsoft, Vodafone and Nokia. The domain helps re-format a Web site to fit your mobile device. For instance, if you wanted to go to Amazon.com on your phone, you'd enter Amazon.mobi.

Starting in June, companies with trademark-validated names were able to register their names with the .mobi domain. Generic names will be able to start registering in September.

In May, the Wall Street Journal reported that Microsoft was expected to register about 200 names, including msn.mobi and xboxlive.mobi. Procter & Gamble, the consumer products giant, is expected to register 500 dot-mobi sites for its trademark products.

Coincidentally, I was just talking to Michael Wehrs about .mobi. He was hired recently by AOL to be its vice president of product evangelism and standards. He had been involved in the .mobi domain when he was working at Microsoft as its director of technology and standards in the mobile devices division.

In an interview with Wehrs in the Seattle Times in 2004, he said that .mobi was crucial in order to create mobile applications. He said you can browse the Web site on your phone, but no one can access your phone as a Web server. So, if you have pictures stored on your device, the only way that you could share them is to actually send them as a message.

"But wouldn't it be easier if from my Web browser I could just browse to your phone and look at them?" he asked.

Wehrs, who is working from AOL's Wireless office in Seattle, said he was still as passionate about the domain today as he was two years ago. He said he had just returned from Dublin, where dotMobi, or the mTLD (Mobile Top Level Domain) organization, is based.

I asked Wehrs whether the campaign for a new mobile domain was dead, given the advances in mobile browsing. For instance, Nokia uses a browser from Opera that zooms in on a section of a Web page, and then allows a user to zoom out quickly to find something else on a page. The system is not only super useful, but has a coolness factor.

Wehrs dismissed the advances as a solidi replacement for the .mobi domain.

"Every time you load a new feature you are going to have the processor re-render it, shortening battery life," he said. "You must achieve a balance between processing and wiz-bang features."

He also said that in order to use such a browser, you have to have a high-end phone, which represents only a sliver of the market. What would allow mobile browsing to take off faster is to have a system in place that anyone could use on most any feature phone, he argued.

Still, there's quite the debate going on as to whether .mobi is "Kickstarting the mobile Web or holding it back, " according to the blog Mobhappy, written by mobile marketing gurus.

There's also criticism from Techdirt, which questions whether the domain is a well concealed money grab given that an auction will determine who ends up owning such premium domains as sex.mobi.

However, the general points against .mobi are that the user shouldn't have to guess whether to type in a .mobi or .com address. Perhaps the site doesn't have a .mobi domain? The writer also wonders who is going to pay for the advertising campaign to spread awareness of the domain.

"The bottom line for mobile Web surfing is that all users need to be delivered the information they want, regardless of their device or browser, or what address a content provider decides to use," Mobhappy wrote.

Hard to argue with that level of simplicity.

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Tricia Duryee
Tricia Duryee
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Angel Gonzalez
Angel Gonzalez
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Kristi Heim
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