.mobi : Darwin Rules on the Mobile Web

Editor’s note from Ajit: In November last year, I was invited to attend a W3C meeting in Paris relating to the Mobile Web. In that session, I heard a presentation by Ronan Cremin of mtld (the company behind the .mobi initiative). .mobi has had a lot of bad press. So, my view of .mobi then was ‘neutral’ i.e. buy a dot mobi domain for defensive reasons.

However, Ronan’s presentation made me realise that .mobi is more than the domain name. In other words, a ‘money grabbing’ way to do this would be to sell the domains only and nothing else. However, even if you don’t agree with the business model, I think we have to agree that .mobi has made some efforts to provide an ecosystem – especially in view of some of their documents like the Switch on guides

So, my take on .mobi is

a) They follow w3c standards

b) They are doing more than merely selling domain names

c) Some form of consistency is good for the industry

d) I have a lot of respect for some of the technical people involved with it : for instance Jo Rabin

e) It helps the Mobile Web(which is a good thing in my view)

f) I am neutral to the business model. I.e. taking a pragmatic approach, if mTld makes money from selling domain name – but also helps the industry – that’s OK by me.

My criticism, if any is: its focussed on the lowest common denominator(and that is to be expected of any standard). My real interest lies in the other end of the spectrum(for instance browsers running full Web standards).

In Paris, I told Ronan that I would blog about .mobi from a neutral perspective i.e. discussing .mobi from a holistic perspective and not just the domains.

A few weeks ago, when I asked for guest bloggers, James Pearce, CTO of mtld, offered to write something about .mobi. So, considering I was going to blog about it anyway, here is an article from James.

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James Pearce

CTO .mobi

I was recently asked what I thought were going to be the major mobile web applications of the future. I could have been brave. I could have been visionary. I could have rattled off some old cliches.

But instead I said “I don’t know”.

And I’m proud that I don’t know.

Here’s why.

It must be almost 10 years since people started talking about ‘killer applications’ (and about 9 years since they stopped again). Then for a while it was ‘killer baskets’ – with the realisation that, in a sort of early form of ‘long tail’ thinking, people might actually want to do more than one thing. Then the web and mobile web markets went into free-fall for a while. And presumably people were busy looking for ‘killer job security’.

But me? I believe in ‘killer ecologies’. It is more important that we get the environment right for the healthy, stimulated development of the mobile web, than that we naively try to predict who the winners of the future will be, and give them some sort of false, pre-emptive credence.

The best successes are often the things you didn’t predict or that didn’t fit the obvious predictions.

“Anything But Stocks News Or Weather” as I used to say.

(I can also imagine, in the mid-90s, the strategy teams within hallowed ‘walled garden’ internet service providers trying to guess and promote what the next big thing on the web was supposed to be. Think they guessed auctions? Bookstores? Blogging? Social networking? Video sharing? I doubt it.)

So where does Darwin come into this?

Well, I’m no biology graduate. But no-one can doubt that the principles of evolution and the survival-of-the-fittest have served the animal and plant kingdoms extremely well. Add water, oxygen and food. Wait a million years. Bio-diversity flourishes. Different species compete.

Those which are best suited to their environment succeed. Those which are not do not. There’s (probably!) no intelligent design.

And nor should there be on the mobile web. Why can’t similar principles shape the way that content providers (as potential ‘killer species’) evolve? Of course, I’d rather not wait a million years ;-) . But I firmly believe that the most important thing right now is the metaphorical

water, oxygen and food to catalyse our ecology into life.

What might this mean practically?

Well, many miles of blogs have been written about the emergence of flat rate data tariffs, and the crumbling of operator’s walled gardens. Perhaps that’s the oxygen we require. Nothing but highly specialised lifeforms can survive in sulphur dioxide!

Water? Perhaps that’s a constant stream of tools, technologies, platforms, assistance, and community support that the developers of content and services require to be able to compete effectively. On the web, the technical barriers to entry were, and are, low. We need to

ensure it is just as easy for folks to get to compete on the mobile web too – even if that comes at the expense of ‘mobile specialists’ who benefit from sustaining the mystique.

(This is where we, the dotmobi company are putting a lot of effort. As well as providing mobile-centric domains, we are trying to democratise the process of building applications for the mobile web, making it easy for developers to find training, advice, and tools – such as

http://dev.mobi and http://ready.mobi – to do so).

And food? Well, I strongly believe in the two important economic lubricants for the mobile web: advertising and payment. Just as food does in a Darwinian ecology, these both motivate content providers to get involved in the race for life, and then sustain them once they have

become a successful part of the (ahem) circle of life.

Most of all I believe that no-one can play god on the mobile web. Not operators, not content aggregators, not device manufacturers. Especially not the dotMobi company :-)

But I truly hope that, if we all realise that we have responsibilities to provide water, oxygen and food, we will be able to stimulate a ‘killer ecology’ that accelerates towards becoming self-sustaining and rich in bio-diversity.

That’s important. Because the more developers and content providers we can introduce into the complex biological equation, the more that the natural selection of market forces takes effect, and the better the best-evolved of the species will become.

And that’s only going to result in more and more innovative, exciting – and unpredictable (think duck-billed platypus!) applications that genuinely drive interest and usage of the medium.

After all, that’s what users want. That’s what all of us in the industry want. And of course, that’s what Darwin would have wanted.