The Mobile Technology Weblog: Mobile Edition

 MTW: Mobile Edition Update: Creative-Weblogging has fixed most of the browser detection issues with their mobile sites making much of what I wrote below no longer true. Opera Mini and Netfront are now recognized as mobile devices. See Creative-Weblogging CEO Torsten’s comments. It sounds like he is committed to making the CW sites mobile friendly. If you have a mobile browser that’s not getting the mobile edition of one of the Creative-Weblogging sites please leave a comment and I’ll try to pass it on. – Dennis 22-Jan-2007

Another enhancement, now you can force a mobile page to be rendered by adding index_xhtml.php to the end of any of the creative-weblogging urls, for example – Dennis 24-Jan-2007

One of the blogs I find good enough to subscribe to is The Mobile Technology Weblog (MTW). It’s a well written, lively mobile news and opinion blog covering what’s happening with mobile software, analysis of industry trends and pictures and specs of the most delicious new handsets.

I usually try to read MTW on my PC because I’ve found it one of the hardest sites of any kind to read on a phone. BTW, this is not the fault of MTW’s bloggers, Tom Gordon and Scott Smith. MTW is part of a network of over 100 blogs called Creative-Weblogging all of whose sites use the same basic page template.

I’m using Opera Mini which is a “full web” browser that handles PC sites reasonably well, in fact the PC editions of most blogs are very usable in Opera Mini. But not this one. I have to scroll through 39 (I counted) screens containing the site’s linkroll, archive menu by month, a long list of categories, a calendar of events, a list of over 100 sister sites in the same blog network, a bunch of text ads, lists of recent comments and most popular posts until I finally reach the content! This is using a phone with a decent sized 176×220 screen that displays 17 lines averaging 22 characters per line. It’s much worse on an entry level phone’s 128×128 screen and not much better even with on QVGA screen. Of course, the site will render beautifully on the iPhone :).

The problem is the way the page’s html is laid out. Full-web browsers for mobile devices generally ignore CSS positioning and block element widths and re-flow the content as a single column in the order it occurs in the html document. The same is true of the screen readers used by the visually impaired and text-only PC browsers like Lynx. For a page to be usable by the largest possible audience it should be designed with document order in mind by placing the most important content near the top. The MTW site puts all the sidebar junk at the top of the markup with the content at the bottom and then uses CSS to move the main content block to the top left. This looks fine in modern PC browsers but nowhere else.

The mobile web has arrived and Creative-Weblogging, like blog-network rivals Gawker Media (review of Gawker Media’s Lifehacker Mobile) and Weblogs, Inc (review) and so many media and corporate sites of late, has rolled out mobile editions of all its blogs.

The new mobile edition of MTW is quite nice, if you can actually get it on your phone, more about that later. It uses a mobile blog design pattern that I haven’t seen much of but which like a lot. The front page contains just the blog’s latest post followed by a link to the next oldest post and so on seemingly back indefinitely to the blog’s very first post ever. It’s a variation on the River of News concept but one that works for mobile because by limiting pages to a single post, page size is kept below the 10KB limit of many low end mobile devices.

I’m glad Creative-Weblogging is offering mobile versions of their blogs but there are a few problems with this version 0 of the mobile edition which I think could be easily remedied to make the experience even better. The biggest problem is that the mobile edition is only delivered when a mobile browser is detected and the browser detection doesn’t work very well. Both my phone’s built-in browsers are served the mobile version but all the full web mobile browsers like Opera Mini, Opera Mobile, Netfront 3.1 and 3.3 get the almost unusable PC version. The browser detection seems to be looking for the presence of “text/vnd.wap.wml” in the browser’s HTTP_ACCEPT header to denote a mobile browser. As wml fades into the sunset, fewer and fewer browsers announce support for it.

Another issue is that even supported browsers only get the mobile pages if they enter though the “front-door” – Deep links to individual articles, like the continue links in MTW’s partial feed go to the unusable PC version even when using a supported mobile browser. As a full feed isn’t offered, reading MTW in the mobile versions of Google Reader or Bloglines is painful as well.

The Mobile Technology Weblog: Mobile Edition: xhtml-mp
Content: **** Usability: ****

4 thoughts on “The Mobile Technology Weblog: Mobile Edition

  1. Hi Torsten,

    Wow, that was a quick update. I can confirm that Opera Mini and Netfront now get the mobile version, I like that! I’ll be updating the post to reflect this.

    BTW, I’m still seeing the full web version with the user agents of Opera Mobile, Pocket IE on Windows mobile and the Blackberry Browser:

    Opera mobile on the Nokia 6600 “Mozilla/4.1 (compatible; MSIE 5.0; Symbian OS; Nokia 6600;452) Opera 6.20 [en-US]”

    PIE on the SPV c500 “Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 4.01; Windows CE; Smartphone; 176×220; SPV C500; OpVer”

    Blackberry 7730 “BlackBerry7730/3.7.0”

    I use the php logic below (based on code in Alex King’s WordPress Mobile Plug-in) for browser detection. Also, I don’t think mobile browser detection can ever be perfect so I have a “mobile edition” link at the top of my PC pages and a “full site” link at the bottom of the mobile page. These links let the user override browser detection if they need or want to.

    function isMobile() {

    $small_browsers = array(
    ,”Windows CE”
    ,’Opera Mini’
    foreach ($small_browsers as $browser) {
    if (strstr($_SERVER[“HTTP_USER_AGENT”], $browser)) {
    return true;
    return false;


  2. Hi,

    thanks for that review! Really appreciate it.

    I use myself a Motorola E680. It has an inbuilt Opera browser – thsi on nicely shows the mobile version (one article per page).

    I also have an Opera Mini (Java) installed – this one gets the full HTML page – which is indeed too big for nice reading on a cell.

    I feel we could do more with the browser recognition here – would you be able to send us a collection of browsers (maybe a link) that we should serve the simplified html instead of full html.

    Much appreciated.


    CEO Creative Weblogging Inc.

  3. What a great example of the challenges inherent in the adaptation process that is being suggested as the way to support the ubiquitous web. There are just too many things to think about if a web page that gives a good user experience on a desktop PC is to give an equally good user experience on a cell phone or even a PDA. There’s so much to do and so little time to do it. :(

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