Berners-Lee: Free The Mobile Internet

The World Wide Web Consortium stresses open standards, but what about fragmentation and that all-important 'killer app'?
Posted November 17, 2007

Tim Scannell

BOSTON -- He may not wear the stereotypical bling, but World Wide Web Consortium director and father of the Web Tim Berners-Lee wants to pimp your ride on the mobile Internet.

If only it wasn't filled with so many roadblocks.

"Lot's of people are still thinking in closed ways, and it is sometimes difficult to move away from proprietary formats and protocols," Berners-Lee said during a keynote address at the inaugural Mobile Internet World conference in Boston yesterday.

Burners-Lee is convinced that the right mix of standards, contextual content, location-based technology and user awareness will drive a more improved mobile Internet experience, compared to the Web experience we now have, which doesn't garner many rave reviews.

"Today's mobile Internet pretty much sucks," said Emily Green, Yankee Group President and CEO. What with exorbitant billing rates for little info nuggets, multiple browsers to contend with and speed hassles, "it's really not that good. "

Just what would it take to give mobile Internet a kick in the aspirations? A unified development effort by software and hardware vendors for one, which is part of the whole One Web initiative spearheaded by the W3C.

It also wouldn't hurt to stop thinking of a mobile Internet device as something you tuck in your pocket like a cell phone, Berners-Lee told the faithful gathered here.

He held up his GPS-enabled watch as an example. The device also measures his heart rate --– just the ticket for those challenging Swiss mountain climbs in the shadow of CERN, his former employer. Advertising and content related to his personal passions and device preference could also be channeled to his wrist device or cell phone. The business model that drives these great applications? The Long Tail, the oft-cited concept launched by Chris Anderson, executive editor of Wired. The term simply refers to a lot of revenue coming from a lot of little producers, such as cool mobile application developers.

"It's very important, for creativity, to support the thickness of that long tail," Berners-Lee said.

It also wouldn't hurt to have the right economics to subsidize innovation, which many experts believe will be targeted mobile advertising; and keeping plugged into consumer trends.

"We need to make content and advertising more relevant and useful," explained Greg Clayman, executive vp of digital distribution and business development at MTV Networks. He said MTV has been dabbling for some time in delivering mobile content and more recently mobile social computing through its Latino channel.

"Putting it all into place will be anything but utopian," he said, pointing out that even the task of linking ads to video clips is still pretty cumbersome.

Another difficulty in driving development for the mobile Internet is there is no 'killer" application, at least not one in the same leagues as, say, the spreadsheet application Lotus 1-2-3, which is credited with pushing adoption of the IBM PC.

E-mail, social networking and mobile video have thus far failed to "animate a real explosion," said Yankee Group's Green. Rather than look for a single chart-busting application, developers and users should search for "killer opportunities" that might pave the way for the creation of a series of applications.

Still, as bad as some call it, it's not exactly withering either.

The untapped market for mobile Internet services should be bumping $66 billion per year, but at the moment has reached only $9.5 billion, according to Yankee Group, a major sponsor of the conference. This compares with the global Internet access market of about $125 billion in 2007.

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