411 Sync  The mobile web has really been exploding with new sites lately. The most interesting one I’ve seen is 411Sync, a site with an easy to use and very flexible API that lets content providers do mobile mashups of all sorts of query based services like driving directions, transit schedule lookups or even just plain old RSS feeds.

Oliver Starr at Mobile Crunch already did a great write up of Sync411. I just want to add a little to what Oliver said based on my own brief experiences with the site

When you create a mashup on the 411sync’s developer page you assign it a keyword and optionally some tags. Users can go to 411Sync’s mobile site and enter the keyword along with any parameters that your mashup requires and then view your content reformatted for the mobile web. It took me about 5 minutes to set up Wap Review’s RSS feed in 411Sync. So now, if you enter “wapreview” into the search field at wap.411sync.com and use the default search option, you get a transcoded mobile version of the Wap Review Blog.

Feeds are presented as a list of titles with longish excepts, clicking on a title takes you to the full item body which by default is displayed without images – although images can be turned on.  411 Sync   It looks like 411Sync is using the open source Phonifier as the basis of their transcoder. The transcoder generally does a good job although it doesn’t split long pages or resize images – which could be a problem with the built in browsers of most phones. You can avoid most of those problems by using Opera Mini. The Opera proxy takes care of the big pages and images so the Mini browser can render them quickly without any complaints.

411Sync also has SMS and email interfaces. You send a text or email message with the query terms to +1-415-676-8397 or [email protected]. The SMS/email interface returns the first 160 characters of plain text that it finds in the web service response. It’s not useful for RSS feeds but works great with a service that returns something suitably brief like sports scores.

411Synch has OVER 680 mashups defined to date. On the 411Sync mobile site, mashups can be searched by keyword or tag and you can also browse keywords by category. Browsing for tags can be a little daunting with so many tags. It does help that tags are split into categories. The categories are all pretty usable except for the “Blogs & MySpace” category which seems to have about 500 of 411Sync’s 680 keywords crammed into it – on a single mobile page!

There are a lot of other things you can do with the 411Sync. To me the best part is found near the top of the 411Sync mobile page where there are some featured mashups with well known web destinations. You can search Kayak.com for airfare deals, get traffic alerts from traffic.com, driving directions or daily photos from Yahoo and do all sorts of image searches. Unlike the RSS mashups, the featured image searches do return mobile sized images although there are often dozens of images on a single page which can bring even Opera Mini to a crawl!

  411 Sync  Another feature of 411Sync is a simple but effective RSS aggregator called MobIFeeD. You need to first set up your feeds on 411Synch’s PC Site. On the mobile, 411Sync uses my preferred RSS agregator paradigm of a simple list of feed names, where clicking the name of a feed leads to a list of just the item titles and clicking a title leads to the full item body – neatly paginated with resized images. Interestingly, the final transcoding, pagination and image resizing for MobiFeeD is done by passing the originating site’s URL for the html version of the item to the Google Transcoder. This works really well because not only does Google do an excellent job of reformatting web pages for any mobile browser, but also because even with partial feeds you get to see the full item. The only things missing from MobiFeeD are persistence so you only see unread items and some way to edit and delete your feeds after you’ve set them up.

Oliver called 411Sync “a little rough around the edges”. I have to agree but most of it is really slick and it’s already got more usable, unique content and services than just about any other more mobile search site. For YesWAP users, 411Sync is filed under Search|Web/WAP Search

411Sync: cHtml   Features: ***** Usability: ***

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