Spending a lot of time away from the office lately? Planning to impress with yer spanking new iPhone? Well there’s good news for you dear reader. The W3C established Mobile Web Initiative has got you and all the standards you can swallow in mind. And they aim to lay plans both for bridging and filling the gaps between our disparate devices.

Mobile Web Initiative

The MWI’s mission in life is to provide a set of recommendations and guidelines for key players in the mobile production chain on how to best support the web on mobile platforms. The MWI receives sponsorship from a number of companies and groups including big names like Nokia, Ericson, HP, Vodafone and a gaggle of others. They know that mobile web access is still not all it’s cracked up to be -- its still suffering greatly from usability and interoperability issues. But they have a plan. The group has published several documents including the following: * Mobile Web Best Practices 1.0 - Basic Guidelines * MobileOK Basic Tests 1.0 * Content Transformation Landscape 1.0 There are still many companies out there today that don’t offer a version of their website for the mobile browser. So what do mobile network operators do? Well they use proxies to transform the web content for you so you can see in your mobile browser.

Content Transformation Landscape

Whoa, what are content transform proxies, you say? Proxies are an intermediary inserted into the communications path between your mobile browser and the originating server (website). Essentially they pretend to be a browser getting the content and then convert the content into a readable format before sending to your mobile device. Nifty, eh? Transformations can include things like correcting character encoding, reformatting and resizing images, changing layouts and page segmentation and multi step JavaScript transaction emulation. In addition, they can add or remove content from a page. The MWI has a dedicated task force working on the subject of Content Transformation and they have just released their first working document on it called Content Transformation Landscape 1.0. It discusses the benefits and issues related to transformation proxies and a set of guidelines for the mobile production world to use these proxies. But what if I have a mobile version of my website? There are three types of parties affected by these “mobile transformations”: # a website that has no mobile version available # a website that blocks mobile viewing (they send an HTTP error code or a message back to the mobile when a page on their site is requested) # a website that does have a mobile version available (the company has designed a mobile version of their site)

Content Transformation Advantages

The advantages of content transformation are somewhat obvious: # It enables a mobile browser to view any website regardless of whether that site’s company has created a version of it for the mobile community # It eases the work of site designers, reducing or eliminating their requirement to design a mobile version as these proxies can do this for them.

Content Presentation Issues

But, as you'd expect, it’s not all glory and greatness. While transformation proxies greatly help those unfortunates who don’t already have mobile access, they can wreak havoc for a company that has gone through great effort to design a mobile version of their site. For a company that already has their own fancy mobile version, they are now hindered by these proxies. You see, because the intermediary pretends to be a browser, the website no longer knows what the original device was that requested the web page. As a result, they can’t send back the proper version of the page they created for it. In other cases, companies that detect mobile usage -- they are mobile aware -- sometimes offer a choice of presentation. With a proxy intercepting, again this can’t happen and all the work the company has spent creating these specific presentations is wasted and potentially the mobile gets a presentation is not as good as the one custom created for them. Not all content providers are happy with content transformation. They may want their content presented in the format they choose and may have very good reasons for not wanting their content altered. By using transformation proxies, these content providers are not in control of their content.

Security Concerns

Security is another very important issue when transformation proxies are used. If a secure connection is required between the mobile and the content provider (i.e., gmail, or a banking site), the proxy needs to be able to include these security context.

The Document: Content Transformation Landscape 1.0

With a curious balance of advantages and disadvantages in play, the W3C working group has identified 12 guidelines for transformation proxies that should be followed to ensure the mobile device gets the best presentation of content from the provider. The goal is to ensure, at a minimum, a functional user experience for the mobile browser and that content is provided based on the content providers requirements as best possible. The guidelines say that proxies must expose their capabilities to the content provider and enable the provider to select only parts or none of the proxy capabilities. They also recommend that providers advertise their capabilities and allow the mobile browser to decide how they want to view the content. Additionally, they recommend some technologies and techniques that may be useful to help improve the use of transformation proxies -- the group is not chartered to create new technology -- such as: improving the HTTP protocol, the POWDER protocol, and use the mobileOK test guidelines. But wait, that’s not all…

Ubiquitous Web Applications Working Group

This is another MWI working group that is developing standards for web authoring solutions for all types of devices -- including mobile, desktop and other channels. These standards address issues related security, accessibility and overall user experience. They have published a working draft called: DIAL Part 0: Primer. DIAL stands for Device Independent Authoring Language and is an XML language profile creating by the W3C Device Independent Working Group (DIWG). DIAL is being designed to assist content authors with the ability to create content for sites and applications that can be presented on various types of devices without having to create a different view for that device.

The Future, But More Smoothly

As is it's wont, the W3C is forward thinking and working hard to help us all more gracefully survive the coming web challenges. Helping organizations create flexible content formats, for a number of devices -- which is becoming the norm, what with the introduction of that darn iPhone thingy -- will help companies reach a wider range of folk, for a fraction of the cost. Seems like everybody's a winner with the W3C. Now, if we could just stay on top of the acronyms we'd feel less like we're balanced atop a four foot tall rubber ball.