W3C sets best practices for mobile Web design

The W3C released a set of recommendations aimed at helping developers create Web sites that look good on mobile devices.

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), backed by a group of online leaders, released a document on Tuesday describing best practices for developing Web pages that can be displayed properly on small, mobile devices.

Companies including Nokia, Google, Microsoft, AT&T, Vodafone Group and France Telecom SA helped create the document which is now available for developers to test out and offer feedback.

The recommendations range from simple to more complex. For example, designers are advised to place navigation links primarily at the top of the page and to place each navigation link on a single line. But recommendations also include more sophisticated information such as advice on how to use caching mechanisms to improve the experience for end users. The document also specifies that the idea is to create a single Web, not a separate one designed specifically for mobile devices.

That's an important point in a mobile Internet industry that some say has been hampered by the existence of essentially a separate Web designed for mobile devices. "WAP and the Web are two very different things," said Eskil Sivertsen, a spokesman for Opera Software ASA, one of the companies involved in the development of the recommendations. "With WAP you get limited content with a different URL."

WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) is a technology that was developed to enable mobile users to access online content but it requires developers to create new Web sites specifically for mobile users using a special language. While WAP helped jump start the mobile Internet, more recently, the industry has begun moving toward a model that would make it easier for developers to create just one Web site that could be adequately viewed on a large monitor and a small cell phone.

Sivertsen said that the W3C effort should be more effective than historical efforts to unify the mobile Internet experience because it's not a proprietary effort made by a commercial company. Instead, the initiative was developed by 30 companies across the industry and is backed by the international Web standardization group.

It's the first set of recommendations and more advanced details will follow, he said. "It's a nice beginning to prepare for a Web that is more mobile friendly," he said.

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