Tribes – Mobile Web Channel Surfing

 WapReview with Tribe's ToolbarI just discovered Alatto‘s Tribes (, although it’s been around since at least June, 2005. It’s a bit like a mobile Slashdot but with a wrinkle.

Actually, I almost gave up on Tribes when the first thing I saw upon entering the site was a confusing message warning that the site contains “explict” content and that I must be over 18 to view this content and did I agree with the “above conditions“. My first though was “mobile porn site“. Actually, choosing No lets you into the site with the adult content filtered out. I don’t know why they don’t just do like Google, Yahoo, YouTube and everyone else does and default to NOT including adult content and letting users enable it in an options menu.

Once past the warning you land on a screen with a toolbar-like row of five buttons across the top and simple instructions describing each buttons function, which are:

  • Next: Every time you press “Next” Tribes takes you to a new random mobile site.
  • Hot: Flag a site as “Hot” and add it to your “Hot List”. When you flag a site as Hot you can add comments and see a list of sites that other users who flagged the site like.
  • Not: If you don’t like the site you can click “Not” and Tribes will never show it to you again.
  • Options: Personalize Tribes by choose categories like news, entertainment, adult or sports that you would like to see sites from. Under Options you can also view your Hot List, see the top 10 sites flagged as “Hot” by users, view your browsing history or enter a url to add to your Hot List.
  • Home: Back to the Tribes Homepage.

I found Tribes rather compelling, when you click on the next button the focus remains on that button after the next page loads so you can just keep clicking and see a new page every few seconds. It’s a lot like channel surfing on your TV. I found myself clicking over and over just to see what new sites I’d discover. Alatto calls it “One-click content snacking and service discovery“. Tribe’s marketing seems to be directed primarily at mobile operators, with a pitch that it will increase mobile web adoption and drive increased data revenues, which based on my reaction is true. At any rate, at least seven operators including Orange Portugal, are offering the service. With the current trend toward “unlimited” data packages I’m not so sure carriers really want to increase data traffic anymore, though.

Tribes is a proxy server similar to a transcoder like Skweezer. But Tribes doesn’t alter content other than to insert it’s toolbar. Mobile proxy servers are tricky to get right. It’s not easy to consistently handle things like relative urls and redirects and to modify content without introducing subtle markup errors that will cause picky mobile browsers to reject the page. Even Google’s transcoder has issues with some pages. In general, Tribes does pretty well. I noticed problems with only one site, the LA Times, where most links failed with the message “We had an error accessing your site. – Please try again” Tribes is also fast – the proxy doesn’t seem to degrade the browsing experience at all.

Tribes Top 10I do have a couple of issues with the way the Tribes proxy is implemented. For one, some of the sites in Tribes, like DiggRiver, have links to non mobile sites and Tribes will let you follow those links with no warning. That will really drive up carrier data revenues but I’m sure users on metered data plans will not be happy. Secondly, when the Tribes proxy does get an error there is no way to go directly to the target site. Google and Skweezer provide links to view sites in their native format and I think Tribes should too. There’s nothing more frustrating than seeing an interesting headline link and not being able to get to the full story.

The off-deck version of Tribes isn’t promoted anywhere on Alatto’s web site. I never would have found it if I hadn’t landed on Alatto founder John Whelan’s blog while searching for information on Linux phones. John’s an infrequent blogger but he sure does get mobile. In particular check out his Advertising will be the ONLY revenue stream for mobile content. Not surprising Tribes pages have carried advertising since the site first launched. Currently every Tribes page has an Admob ad right below the toolbar.

In another post John mentioned that the off-deck version of Tribes is registering 250,000 page views/day. That’s not too shabby – think what they could do with a little more promotion.

Link: (xhtml-mp)

Ratings – Content: *** * Usability: XXXX

Related: Open Gardens – mobile adwords from alatto…

6 thoughts on “Tribes – Mobile Web Channel Surfing

  1. Yes the exposure is probably the only good thing about it, but at a cost of additional page weight, which in turn is time, for the mobile user. Most mobile users dont want to be waiting more than a couple of seconds for a page to load.

    Thanks about letting me know that my mobile selection page wasn’t working, thats now fixed. There are also a handful of images missing which will be fixed shortly, other than that, I’m hoping there are no other errors.

  2. Zig,

    I know what you mean. Tribes is selling ads on other people’s content without their permission.

    On the other hand, they are exposing that content to a wider audience which should eventually drive traffic back to the original site.

  3. Its profiteering from others efforts, my site ( is directly accessible from a mobile browser, its put together with the mobile user in mind, so doesn’t need to be shown through tribes with their advertising all over it, its a good idea, but permission should be sought with webmasters, I for one don’t like the idea that tribes is making cash from displaying my content, WITHOUT my permission!

  4. Hi Denis,
    I am happy to see that you liked our Tribes solution.

    Your ideas are taken onboard and we have in fact already changed the adultwarning message to make it easier to understand.

    All sites listed under Tribes is actually rated automatically based on the users behavior, and what lies behind the “next” button is based on that. If an adult site is next in line the adult warning is displayed, and you then have the option of “adult content” or “safe content only”.

    In addition to maintaining free portals such as Globalen, and we also deliver white label portals to mobile operators and others looking to build their own OFF-Portal (Off-net) environment.


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