July 19, 2024

Why We Don't Need .mobile

A group of companies is proposing the creation of a new Internet top level domain called “.mobile”, with rules that require sites in .mobile to be optimized for viewing on small-display devices like mobile phones.

This seems like a bad idea. A better approach is to let website authors create mobile-specific versions of their sites, but serve out those versions from ordinary .com addresses. A mobile version of weather.com, for example, would be served out from the weather.com address. The protocol used to fetch webpages, HTTP, already tells the server what kind of device the content will be displayed on, so the server could easily send different versions of a page to different devices. This lets every site have a single URL, rather than having to promote separate URLs for separate purposes; and it lets any page link to any other page with a single hyperlink, rather than an awkward “click here on mobile phones, or here on other devices” construction.

The .mobile proposal looks like a textbook example of Lessig’s point about how changing the architecture of the net can increase its regulability. .mobile would be a regulated space, in the sense that somebody would make rules controlling how sites in .mobile work. And this, I suspect, is the real purpose of .mobile – to give one group control over how mobile web technology develops. We’re better off without that control, letting the technology develop on its own over in the less regulated .com.

We already have a regulated subdomain, .kids.us, and that hasn’t worked out too well. Sites in .kids.us have to obey certain rules to keep them child-safe; but hardly any sites have joined .kids.us. Instead, child-safe sites have developed in .com and .org, and parents who want to limit what their kids see on the net just limit their kids to those sites.

If implemented, .mobile will probably suffer the same fate. Sites will choose not to pay extra for the privilege of being regulated. Instead, they’ll stay in .com and focus on improving their product.


  1. I use a number of portable user agents to access my own web sites in addition to Pocket Google, etc. And the problem isn’t that a HTTP server can’t recognize the user agent. The problem is that the tools haven’t been built to automatically adapt content to the different screen form factors.

    If enough people (10) vote that they need a simple URL redirection script for any HTTP server platform to correctly redirect http://www.mysite.com to http://www.mysite.com/pda to serve mobile content, then I’ll be happy to write one for the world.

  2. I use my Treo 300 every day as a web user agent and can count on one hand the number of sites that detect the Blazer user agent and serve reduced bandwidth data. One of the most valuable is google, which serves up Pocket Google.

    There are many websites that have good, well formatted mobile content, such as BBC, Slashdot, MapQuest,
    Yahoo, LawMeme, and LinuxToday.

    But none of the go there automatically; it is a continuous process to keep track of these special URLs in my phone’s browser. Why isn’t Freedom to Tinker on either of these lists? How about it, Professor?

  3. I responded to Solum here.

  4. Solum’s Response on .mobile

    Larry Solum, at Legal Theory Blog, responds to my .mobile post from yesterday. He also points to a recently published paper he co-authored with Karl Mannheim. The paper looks really interesting. Solum’s argument is essentially that creating .mobile wou…

  5. As soon as I examined the list of companies behind .mobile, I thought, “I’m being Verisigned.”

    A “Verisign”, like a digital signature, is a digital watermark (almost like a tatoo), applied to a poor slob’s forehead after they’ve been forced to pay some useless tax to comply with a monopoly product.

    I was last Verisigned while purchasing a $400 digital ID from Verisign for my web site so that IE6 users wouldn’t see an error message when my HTTP server sent them a SSL page.

  6. Jordan Lampe says

    Shortly after the release of the “i-mode” phones in Japan, most popular internet sites took up the convention that /i after the URL implied an i-mode optimized html page. So http://www.asahi.com for the Asahi news service would be http://www.asahi.com/i for the i-mode version.

    This convention seems to work fine – it’s exactly the same as using “www.” in front of your domain name for your web server – everyone knows it but it’s not required.

  7. I’ve posted a reply on Legal Theory Blog, here.

  8. If you are right that people won’t be interested to join (and I think you are right), then how would any group be able to get any control? That would be only possible if they got some kind of exclusive right to serving mobile phones, which can’t be done easily.

    While I don’t know if that proposal is a good idea, I don’t think that it can do much harm.

  9. Mark Gritter says

    I agree; previous efforts to create a parallel space (WAP, for one) just haven’t panned out, and I don’t see the previous TLDs as having been successful.

    Some of the claims don’t make any sense to me, like this one:

    The final benefit [Annemarie Duffy of Microsoft] mentioned, is to allow mobile devices to be IP-addressable. Mobile devices themselves will offer services to the Internet, she said: “If I get off a plane in a different country, my family will want to access photos stored on my device.”

    To have the device addressable in a simple way, it has to have an IP address. If it pops up in a different part of the network, the DNS service needs to be updated very quickly, she said. She would not be drawn, however, on the actual technology involved here.

    What gets me is the disconnect between the long-range viewpoint promoted by so many of these companies (“everything will be mobile”) and the idea that mobile is somehow “different” and needs its own special playground. There are low-bandwidth wired connections, low-resolution wired displays, high-resolution high-power mobile laptops, etc. so the problem is not really “mobility”, it’s scalability across multiple dimensions of connectivity and capacity.

    (I’ll refrain from my usual rant about the uselessness of infrastructure-free architectures for now since only academics seem to be in love with such things.)

  10. You’re right. While itseems like a good idea on first glance, I think that sites would just as soon provide services through their dot-com addresses rather than through a regulated mobile domain.

    It will be interesting to see what developments follow this proposal though. Regardless, I will refrain from using internet on my mobile until the costs go down a bit.