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Making Microbrowseable Web Sites

Mobile customers view miniature versions of web sites via microbrowsers. But microbrowsing is not like PC web browsing. A microbrowseable site is simple to use. A successful small site redefines the standards of conventional surfable web sites that have grown heavy with complex layouts, excessive graphics, and numerous pages and links. With some effort, web content can become more informative in a mobile personal context.

After messaging, browsing content is the most popular wireless application. The great advantage of writing web pages is that they run on many different devices. Most development for these pages is done on the server. The first order is simply to make your web content available.

Read-only publishing is a useful way to view a mobile wireless system. The most effective cell phone applications are effectively read-only, meaning that there is no upstream content you expect users to supply; you really shouldn't expect text input from people who are on the go with little time. It's important to think small when presenting content from a web site. Designers once used every possible screen color and dynamic animation for a PC web browser. Most mobile users expect wireless web pages to fit in 4 lines of text, 20 characters wide, without color. The basic U.S. or European web phone can only hold 1000 bytes. In Japan, it's 2000 bytes. The minipage can embed links to other sites and buttons to place phone calls.

Wireless markup languages are document formats that define content with style. Wireless publishing depends on these pages. They tell any browser how to display or any printer how to print them. They're not like a computer language such as Java or C++ that runs as a program. The most active markup language is the Extensible Markup Language (XML). XML defines portable structured information, independent of style. The abstract nature of XML syntax can also be used to define any other markup languages. It's the root language for modern Internet browsers, large and small. Internet servers worldwide use XML as the base to exchange protocols and data. This is also the emerging language of wireless publishing and messaging. The entire Microsoft.NET initiative uses XML as a cornerstone for storing document files, electronic exchange data, and, in Windows XP, Smart Tags. Smart Tags are intelligent cut-and-paste XML-tagged data.

Dynamic content is the presentation of web data, generated programmatically at the server with variables often controlled by the user. Whereas static content is the retrieval of web pages from a filesystem, dynamic content is the presentation of generated pages in memory based on the changing logical use of the data. A dynamic content site serves pages that are filled in by making database calls for content, with rarely a hit to the filesystem. A traditional advantage of dynamic content is that developers don't have to write so many web pages, but it's a new advantage for wireless applications. Because pages are dynamic, the mobile user can influence web pages as they move about. You program your server to construct interesting pages based on what you know about the person's location, time of day, and personality.

Servers can programmatically format markup languages—WML for WAP, cHTML for i-mode, PQA for Palm. Use a device emulator to make sure that the pages appear correctly and can be navigated well. Recent browsing architectures have servers sending XML data to the new wireless device browsers that keep their own stylesheets, sparing the server from computing the entire markup display.

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