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Mobile Web: Over before it began?

Mowser, a Menlo Park, Calif. startup focused on the mobile Web browsing, is going away, but not before its founder sounded the death knell for the so-called mobile Web.
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Written by Larry Dignan on

Mowser, a Menlo Park, Calif. startup focused on the mobile Web browsing, is going away, but not before its founder sounded the death knell for the so-called mobile Web.

Russell Beattie, founder of Mowser, delivered the news that his startup is disappearing. The usual suspects--lack of funding, questionable growth and an uncertain audience--are behind the end of Mowser.

What's notable is Beattie's take on the mobile Web. Beattie, who is looking for work by the way, used to be a cheerleader for the mobile Web. From November 2004 to September 2006, Beattie was an evangelist at Yahoo creating new mobile products and services. He launched Mowser--a startup website focused on content adaption for mobile phones--a year ago.

So when Beattie disses adapting content for mobile purposes perhaps it's worth a listen. Here's what Beattie had to say about Mowser's disappearance.

Now the question you might be asking is why not stick with it a little longer? Get a contract or something and tough it out since it's "only" been a year, and many companies have had to struggle for a lot longer than that before taking off. Beyond the fact that I'm irretrievably in debt, the general answer is that I don't actually believe in the "Mobile Web" anymore, and therefore am less inclined to spend time and effort in a market I think is limited at best, and dying at worst. I'm talking specifically about sites that are geared 100% towards mobile phones and have little to no PC web presence. Two years ago I was convinced that the mobile web would continue to evolve in the West to mimic what was happening in countries like Japan and Korea, but it hasn't happened, and now I'm sure it isn't going to.

In other words, I think anyone currently developing sites using XHTML-MP markup, no Javascript, geared towards cellular connections and two inch screens are simply wasting their time, and I'm tired of wasting my time.

That's quite a dose of reality from a former mobile evangelist. In some sense, he's right. Mobile browsing stinks and frankly I want the same experience I get on my PC. That browsing ability is the secret sauce behind the iPhone and with any luck all devices will surf the Web the same way a PC does.

Beattie continues:

The argument up to now has been simply that there are roughly 3 billion phones out there, and that when these phones get on the Internet, their vast numbers will outweigh PCs and tilt the market towards mobile as the primary web device. The problem is that these billions of users *haven't* gotten on the Internet, and they won't until the experience is better and access to the web is barrier-free - and that means better devices and "full browsers". Let's face it, you really aren't going to spend any real time or effort browsing the web on your mobile phone unless you're using Opera Mini, or have a smart phone with a decent browser - as any other option is a waste of time, effort and money. Users recognize this, and have made it very clear they won't be using the "Mobile Web" as a substitute for better browsers, rather they'll just stay away completely.

Beattie notes that Mowser's original vision was to help Web sites go mobile and connect to the regular Web via any handset. But the traffic never showed up. And neither did the funding.

The solution is full browsers and better devices. The concept of the mobile Web didn't make sense. It's just the Web.

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