W3C gets proactive with Mobile Web Initiative

Working groups to focus on simplifying Web access from mobile devices

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) formally launched the Mobile Web Initiative at its WWW2005 Conference in Chiba, Japan, on Wednesday, putting out a call for participants to join two working groups focused on making Web access from mobile devices as natural and easy as making a telephone call.

"Web access today is so fundamental, that it shouldn't be hampered by wires," said Philipp Hoschka, W3C's deputy director for Europe. "Through this initiative, we're committed to improving the state of the art in mobile Web content production and mobile access," said Hoschka.

The Mobile Web Best Practices Working Group, with an 18-month charter, will develop authoring guidelines, checklists and tips on things to avoid, all with an aim of helping content providers develop Web content that works well on mobile devices, Hoschka said. The group is expected to produce its first results on providing best practices for what the W3C calls "mobileOK" Web sites sometime in the fourth quarter, he said.

The Device Description Working Group, working with a year-long charter, will work to improve device descriptions and databases used by content authors to adapt their content to a particular device.

"There are many devices out there and lots of descriptions about what features are supported by which devices. For example, finding out if a particular phone has a keyboard and then adapting content to that handheld," Hoschka said. "We want to help the people who have created databases for those descriptions and figure out how to share those databases."

The W3C has made a concerted effort towards improving the mobile Web experience, and in November hosted a two-day workshop in Barcelona on the topic. Companies such as Vodafone Group, Nokia, and Hewlett-Packard presented over 40 position papers and around 100 people took part in discussions on making Web surfing as convenient and ubiquitous over devices like mobile phones and PDAs (personal digital assistants) as it is over the desktop.

"It became clear in Barcelona that people have big problems in accessing the Web from mobile devices," Hoschka said. "What was impressive was that the whole mobile industry was there, representing all of its various components, and they all seemed to agree that we need to collectively do something."

A number of the companies that took part in the workshop, including Vodafone and HP, have since become sponsors of the Mobile Web Initiative (MWI). The W3C has so far raised €500,000 ($642,000) to be used over three years and is hoping to bring more companies with additional funding on board, Hoschka said. All W3C members are eligible to become MWI founding sponsors until July 1.

One large aspect of the initiative will be education and outreach, according to Hoschka. "We are hoping that these groups are going to develop something mobile content providers are going to pick up. But what we've come to realize is that it's not enough to do specifications; you have got to help people actually use them," he said.

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