I'll admit I've gone back and forth on my opinions of the new .mobi TLD. But I've finally made the firm decision that it's definitely a step forward for the mobile web. Sometimes I'd wonder if we really needed Yet Another Domain Name or if a new domain name would cause confusion, or if separating out addresses for the mobile web was really a good idea. But I have finally decided once and for all it's a Good Thing(TM). Here's why in a sentence:
We'll finally have a standard format for initial mobile web navigation: companyname.mobi
This is the thing that's really missing from the mobile web. There's been no way to know exactly what the URL was for the mobile version of a website. There may be a bunch of redirect or handset detection magic that happens (or not), but the end URLs are all over the place. Here's some examples from some of the most popular mobile sites in the US (and BBC news too):
- Yahoo!: http://wap.oa.yahoo.com
- AOL: http://mobile.aol.com
- MSN: http://mobile.msn.com
- Google: http://google.com/xhtml
- ESPN: http://proxy.espn.go.com/wireless/espn/
- Weather Channel: http://xhtml.weather.com/xhtml/
- BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/mobile
- ABC News: http://wap.go.com/abcnews/
Just from those sites alone there's only two URLs that use the same format, the rest use various versions of subdomains and directories that include XHTML, Mobile, WAP and Wireless. And those are just the sites that actually are meant for mobile phones. There's still tons of "handheld" sites out there with URLs that have PDA or AvantGo in them that have been repurposed as well. Add to this that some of the sites do auto-detection and redirection, some don't and you never really know what you're going to get when you type in a URL on a phone. Industry experts will claim that consumers don't want to type in URLs on their handsets, and can you blame them? They don't have a chance in the world of finding the right address. I type in www.companyname.com in my web browser and I'll probably find navigate directly to what i'm looking for, this is a total dream on a mobile phone. (Note that if I'm *searching* for something, I'll probably use a search box, which is the same on mobiles too.. but then again, you'll have to navigate to the search engine site first won't you?).
Thus .mobi is a great way to restart the mobile web by giving it a standard naming and navigation scheme for that first step. An ICAAN approved domain name with standards on what is and what isn't a mobile friendly site is perfect. The mandatory rules for a .mobi domain are simple, practical and most importantly, enforceable: 1) You have to end up at a XHTML-MP page if you type in a url that ends in .mobi, either via a primary or secondary domain: i.e. you have to support just domainname.mobi as well as anything.domainname.mobi. 2) You can't use frames. That's it. Pretty easy. You can do redirects to any URL you want, as long as the user ends up at an XHTML-MP page at the end. Awesome.
Even if you LOVE server-side handset detection and think it's both the absolute best way to serve customers and the holy grail of the World Wide Web, the very simple rules above give us something what we've been desperately needing in the mobile web: A standard navigation scheme. Now users can guess "cnn.mobi" or "yahoo.mobi" or "amazon.mobi" and KNOW that their phone isn't going to barf at them, and the companies will have a standard name to rally around as well. I would imagine that very soon, the handsets themselves will incorporate this, so instead of having to type in .mobi at all, that will be the default navigation scheme like it used to be in browsers for .com. IE and FireFox have moved away from this to general web searches when you type in a single word into the address bar, and I'm sure mobiles will follow along that path eventually as well, but for now this is right idea.
So consider me a true believer. There's a bunch of big companies on board the .mobi initiative already, there's a general awareness of the fact that this is coming, and unlike TLDs like ".info", ".biz", ".pro" or ".name", .mobi solves a real problem that people have today and will still have tomorrow, serving a real purpose, rather than just being just an unneeded alternative to .com. Though I'm sure there will be solely .mobi sites out there, to me the practical thing is that it's used as an adjunct to your regular site, encouraging mobile users and growing the industry as a whole.
Remember, no matter how powerful handsets get in the future, even if I have the equivalent of a Pentium Core Duo 4Ghz with 2GB of RAM and a Terabyte of storage sitting in the palm of my hand connected by a T1 speed 5G wireless network, the size of the screen isn't going to change much. It's an unchangeable fact that there's a certain size at which a screen and device grows past the point where it can possibly be labeled "handheld", "handset" or even "pocketable". For the forseeable future, that size will be all over the place, but I'm sure that at some point we'll start to see a general standard size emerge. We don't know yet what that optimal size and resolution will be (is VGA resolution on a 3 inch screen too much?) but the point is that interfaces will have to be designed or at least adjusted to a smaller form factor no matter what. This gives .mobi both a short term and long term selling point which I think is key.
All you trademark owners can start registering in May, and the rest of us have to wait until general registration starts on August 28th. I'll have to trademark my name or something so I can get in early. :-)