London is one of 650 cities around the world that has been offered a free dot-mobi domain by the organisation behind the mobile-friendly domain name extension drive.
DotMobi (also known as mTLD), a consortium backed by operators, content providers and handset manufacturers, announced that the previously reserved names will be made available at no charge to the cities. The domains are expected to be used primarily by cities' tourism departments, and those taking up the offer will have to agree to put content onto the site and maintain it themselves.
Vance Hedderel, dotMobi's communications director, said: "Eventually we'll be doing this with countries too. We are trying different things at different times, and, with city names, it seemed to be the right time to do it. Now there's been enough awareness of dot-mobi that we think people will know what to do with these names."
At the time of writing, the London mayor's office had not yet confirmed whether or not it would be taking up dotMobi's offer of the free "London.mobi" domain.
The dot-mobi top level domain (TLD) is intended to be used only for websites which adhere to a strict set of small-screen usability standards, such as having no frames or pop-ups. It has been available now for more than a year and almost 600,000 domains have been registered but the scheme has attracted criticism from analysts who believe that, rather than having an extra domain extension for mobile-optimised websites, sites should be coded well enough to recognise what device they are being displayed on -- Google and Amazon being examples of such sites.
Hedderel acknowledged those criticisms. "That is what should happen but, unfortunately, it isn't what happens," he said.
He added: "Coding shouldn't be the be all and end all. I understand why people seem to be vehement about it but they are not necessarily looking at it from a consumer point of view. I think where dot-mobi comes into its own is not simply replicating information... The idea of dot-mobi is the context of mobility.
"We use a very simple example: if I'm on Pepsi.com, I'm probably looking for a whole host of different things [such as corporate information]. If I'm on Pepsi.mobi, I may be looking for the location of a place where I can buy the new Pepsi product."
Asked whether dot-mobi was therefore intended to be a more successful WAP -- the much derided yet long-standing standard for simple information pages designed for the mobile phone -- Hedderel agreed. "Where WAP failed, dot-mobi is trying... a sensible approach using standards we know every phone manufacturer is writing to," he said. "Operators and manufacturers all agree this is a good idea. Handsets can obviously handle it much better at this point in history."
Hedderel also suggested dot-mobi would help drive the use of mobile data among tourists, as dot-mobi pages tend to be smaller than those designed for the desktop, making them easier and quicker to load on the small screen. Asked whether high data roaming charges would be a hindrance to tourists' adoption of mobile web surfing, he even claimed that an increase in usage due to lightweight dot-mobi sites -- such as those which might be built by cities -- could result in a "drop in rates" over time.
A list of the cities that have been offered free domains can be found here.