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Ignoring The Potential Of The Mobile Internet

March 21, 2005

Every time I'm lost in an unfamiliar city (or a familiar one, for that matter...I have a terrible sense of direction), trying to confirm a movie time, pondering a restaurant, or reaching for a factoid that's come up in a trivia conversation, I'll always ask my friends, "Doesn't anyone have a Web browser on their phone?" It's become a bit of a joke.

The truth is, all our phones allow us the service if we choose it. My friends are a high-tech bunch, yet none have chosen Internet access from their mobile devices. It seems that Web-browing on a screen roughly the size of a postage stamp appeals to no one, and for good reason. Web sites that have supposedly been customized for mobile devices are questionable at best, and relatively speaking, there are not that many of them available.

It seems Tim Berners-Lee, inventer of the World Wide Web, agrees. The market exists, he said, but is not being serviced (see below). If it were, perhaps I wouldn't get lost so often.


TAMPERE, Finland (Reuters) -- A mass market exists for the mobile Internet, but it will remain untapped until designers make simpler Web pages that can be viewed properly on handsets, the inventor of the World Wide Web said.

"(The mobile Internet) will be a huge enabler for the industry... and for big profits," Tim Berners-Lee told a seminar on Thursday on the future of the Web.

"Web designers have learned to design for the visually impaired and for other people. They will learn in a few years how to make Web sites available for people with mobile devices too," he said.

Berners-Lee invented the Web in 1989 while working at European particle-physics lab CERN in Geneva, trying to make it easier for fellow scientists to share information and collaborate over the Internet.

While his invention has revolutionized the way people across the globe work and communicate, repeated attempts by mobile device makers and operators to lure users with mobile Internet access have failed.

"Everyone was supposed to be browsing the Web with their mobile phone, but the problem is that it has not happened," Berners-Lee said, adding later this was not a question of weak demand.

"It is a chicken or egg thing, just like originally when the Web became the Web. Nobody asked for Web clients or Web servers ... you have to get enough people to understand the potential returns," he told Reuters on the sidelines of the seminar.

Berners-Lee's original vision of the Web was as a resource for collaboration. He said that so far it had been "a big disappointment" in this respect, although exceptions such as "wikis" -- essentially interactive online note pads -- showed its potential.

"Wikis in general are great examples of how people want to be creative and not just suck in information," he told the seminar, pointing to the online encyclopedia Wikipedia as the most advanced development in this area.

Information on the Wikipedia ( can be edited by the site's users. The Web page currently shows around 500,000 items.

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