It’s fast becoming acknowledged that a mobile website is a must for almost any business, before you even look at which platforms to develop apps for. It’s self-evident really: any app can only reach the people using the operating system it’s designed for, whereas a mobile-optimised site is a catch-all that a brand can use to potentially engage with anyone on a mobile phone with a browser. And if they want to develop apps for their target audience’s key platforms too, that’s all good and well.
The problem is, building a mobile site can sometimes seem like something of a black art, particularly a transactional site that integrates with back-office systems, and possibly, an eCommerce platform too. This is the challenge that Silvio Porcellana is aiming to address with the launch of mob.is.it. It’s a platform that enables brands or agencies to build mobile-optimised sites quickly, easily, and cost-effectively.
Porcellana, a seasoned web veteran who sold his first start-up, FantaStock, in 2000, and went on to found the leading Italian search business, SEO Italy, says he is particularly keen to work with agencies on a white-label basis, enabling them to add mobile to their toolset, without having to invest in expensive, skilled resource.
“We want to become the leading partner for web and marketing agencies that need a reliable and effective solution for their mobile web needs,” says Porcellana. “To have an in-house solution is time consuming and costly: we have a state-of-the art product and we want to share it with our partners, helping them deliver the best solution for their customers and working with them to create an holistic approach to online business, where no opportunities are missed, and no markets are neglected.”
There are three versions of the platform, including a free, ad-supported one; a ‘Pro’ version with unlimited facilities; and a ‘Limited’ version that offers some of the functionality of the Pro version. But affordability is key; even the full version of the platform, Porcellana tells Mobile Marketing, will cost a user no more than €150 a year.
“The fundamental idea behind mob.is.it is that we want to bring the mobile web revolution to everyone,” he says . “This core value will define itself in three ways. The first is that anybody can build a mobile website. Secondly, anyone will be able to access the site, whatever type of device they have, because of the platform’s device-recognition capabilities. And thirdly, everyone will be able to afford to do it, because we are not out to get filthy rich from this.”
At the heart of the mob.is.it platform is a templating system that enables users to build mobile sites using “widgets”. These are independent components such as Content Block, Picture Gallery and Geo List that are used as building blocks to create the site.
“The idea is to give the user an effective and easy tool to create their mobile-optimized website, without requiring any programming, nor any knowledge of the complex mobile devices/browsers landscape,” says Porcellana. “It’s a WYSIWYG system. By choosing a template from among the hundreds the platform offers, and then personalizing it with a few clicks, you are online in minutes, with a native-looking and truly universal mobile website.”
The platform’s other USP is its cross-platform capability. For every website, two versions are created. The first is optimized for iOS, Android and BlackBerry (OS6 and up) devices, using the Sencha Touch framework, to deliver a native-looking experience on each phone. The second is a version for all other mobile devices, including older devices such as the Nokia 5000. This version leverages all mobile optimization techniques, and retains the same look and feel as the touch version. mob.is.it uses the WURFL open source Device Description Repository to serve the best version of the site for each device, making the most of the device’s capabilities, but not presenting any content in a form the device cannot display. All this, of course, is transparent to the user, who works with a single CMS (Content Management System) to manage the site and all the content on it.
For agency partners, the mob.is.it platform offers some additional benefits. Apart from its affordability, the principal ones are fast prototyping, enabling an agency to quickly show a work-in-progress version of the site to their customers; and even faster implementation. Porcellana says that the template-based CMS enables a user to create custom mobile websites, including customized design, widgets and functionality, in as little as two weeks. Clever stuff.
He readily concedes that there are a number of mobile site-building platforms coming to market, but believes his has an edge. He says: “They tend to be very expensive, especially for small-to-medium sized businesses, and they often target a very limited set of devices, usually iPhones and Android. This is OK so far as it goes, but the reality is, the world is full of older, cheaper and less powerful devices, and these represent a huge market, that no brand can afford to ignore. “Others offer a very poor navigational experience, or work from a cumbersome and unintuitive CMS. Our target market is non-expert users in agencies and small businesses, not rocket scientists with a major in Content Management Systems.”
mob.is.it launched in beta a couple of months ago in the month in the UK and the US. Once the initial territories are up and running, Porcellana plans to take the platform to developing countries such as S. America, Asia and Africa, as well as other European markets, such as Germany and Italy.
The platform itself is being continually developed too. By the end of the year, it will enable any user to build a fully transactional mCommerce site, including inventory management, sales, order processing and payments. The mCommerce offering will be fully compatible with the main eCommerce solutions, such as Zen Cart and Magento, enabling users to easily integrate the mobile site with their eCommerce site.
Porcellana says he feels strongly that the mobile web is the full realization of what the World Wide Web has been promising for the past 20 years: to be fully interconnected in an open environment, where everyone can access their content, and can get in touch with whoever they want or need to, at any time, and wherever they are.
“The mob.is.it revolution is the exact fulfilment of this promise,” he says. “Empower every business and every website to be truly mobile, without all the problems of a native app, and the costs of a totally custom solution, ensuring at the same time that all users and all devices out there can enjoy and use it fully.”
It’s a lofty aim, but Porcellana is clearly determined to achieve it, and with mob.is.it, he might just have the vehicle to do so.
Silvio Porcellana is CEO of mob.is.it