Facebook pushes for mobile web standards

The company has formed a new W3C working group with browser makers, device manufacturers and others in order to improve and standardise mobile browsers, but Apple and Google have not signed up
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

Facebook, along with several other major mobile web players, has set up a new working group that aims to improve and standardise mobile browsers.

Facebook timelines

Facebook has set up a new working group that aims to standardise mobile browsers, as it looks to plug more apps into its Open Graph timeline. Image credit: Facebook

The Mobile Web Platform Core Community Group, which will operate under the auspices of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), was announced on Monday at the start of Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. The ultimate purpose of the group is to make it easier for developers to figure out which browsers and devices will support their mobile web apps.

Mobile web standardisation is crucial to Facebook. The company's developer relations chief, Douglas Purdy, wrote in a blog post on Monday that the social network is accessed by more people through the mobile web than through all the native mobile Facebook apps — those for iOS and Android, for example — combined.

"We know the mobile web is important for reach. So why aren't more people building apps for the mobile web? We hear from developers that there are three challenge areas that make it hard to build on the mobile web: app discovery, mobile browser fragmentation and payments," Purdy wrote.

Harnessing Open Graph

As on the desktop, Facebook hopes to take care of mobile web app discovery by encouraging developers to plug their apps into the company's Open Graph. Doing so makes it possible for users to display their interactions with the app in their timelines and tickers, which in turn encourages their friends and contacts to try out the same app.

It is already possible for mobile web apps and native iOS apps to hook up to the Open Graph, and Facebook said the same ability would soon come to native Android apps.

We know the mobile web is important for reach. So why aren't more people building apps for the mobile web?.
– Douglas Purdy, Facebook

However, there are many web browsers out there and their capabilities vary — hence Facebook joining the community group in the hope of creating a level playing field. Other participants in the group range from device manufacturers such as Sony and Nokia to operators such as Orange and Verizon, as well as a variety of chipmakers and content companies.

Naturally, browser-making firms including Microsoft, Mozilla and Opera are also in there. Apple and Google, though, are notable absentees. ZDNet UK has asked both those companies why they did not sign up, but had not received replies at the time of writing.

As part of its commitment to the group, Facebook has donated a mobile browser benchmark tool called Ringmark, which provides a fairly simple graphical representation of a mobile browser's ability to handle different types of apps. The tool was developed alongside the web technology company Bocoup.

Billing arrangements

Meanwhile, Purdy also noted that Facebook is working on "streamlined billing" arrangements with operators around the world. This sort of deal makes it a lot easier to handle payment systems in mobile web apps — native apps do not present as much of a problem here, as their users are usually already signed up to payment systems associated with the app store.

"We're working with operators around the world to minimise the number of steps needed to complete a transaction in mobile web apps, which will make it easier for hundreds of millions of people worldwide to purchase apps on their device via operator billing," Purdy wrote. "This will be automatically enabled where carriers support it when you integrate the Pay Dialog into your app."

The operators working with Facebook on billing include AT&T, Deutsche Telekom, Orange, Telefónica, T-Mobile USA, Verizon, Vodafone, KDDI and Softbank.

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