Embracing mobile site visitors: Early detection is best

The ubiquity of mobile devices, the shift to "choose it yourself" top-level domains and the availability of internationalized domain names will profoundly impact the relationship between your network and your network users. In this biweekly column, Ram Mohan, a non-voting ICANN board member and "Security and Stability Advisory Committee Liaison," chronicles these and other developments.

When you think about your company's websites -- whether internal or customer-facing -- you most likely picture the sites rendered on a computer screen, the environment Web development teams typically target. But there are more than 4 billion mobile phones in use worldwide, more than the total number of TVs and PCs combined, and that doesn't even include tablets. The reality today is your websites are being visited by people using hundreds of kinds of devices, the vast majority of which are mobile.

Delivering content for so many devices can be tricky, especially when you don't know the capabilities of each platform, but today's users don't just want the content to be tailored to their mobile device, they expect it to be. Your job, of course, is to deliver on those expectations.

That's where device detection comes in.

BACKGROUND: A report on ICANN 43: New gTLDs and DNSSEC

Although the number of people accessing sites and applications via mobile continues to grow, a surprisingly high percentage of content platforms still lack device-awareness capabilities. That means companies are serving sites that aren't optimized for the vast range of mobile devices and tablet computers. That also means you are delivering content that is irrelevant to mobile users and, frankly, just looks bad. [Also see: "Google aims to help businesses make better mobile websites"]

And consider this: Gomez, a Web measurement leader, noted that 61% of mobile visitors are less likely to return to websites where they've had a bad user experience.

So being mobile-ready matters. And device detection can help you get there.

On-premise or cloud-based?

The first step is selecting a mobile device detection solution that's closely aligned with your organization's goals and objectives. Mobile device detection is a highly specialized kind of technology, but it's got one thing in common with nearly every other investment you make in your IT infrastructure: It's important to ask a lot of questions before you settle on a mobile device detection solution.

A good starting point is to determine whether you want the solution on-premise or whether you prefer a cloud-based offering. There are advantages and disadvantages to both.

If you anticipate a high quantity of Web traffic from mobile devices -- and that's information you can glean from your server's traffic reports -- you may want to look more closely at a locally deployed solution using an API that takes advantage of a local device data file.

If a cloud-based solution makes more sense in your existing environment, a good starting point in the evaluation process is to see if a trial is available to test drive. Also reach out to IT professionals at other organizations who are using the solution you're considering to confirm that maintenance is not an issue, that the data is updated on a regular basis and that the solution supports the environments you use like ASP, JSP and PHP.

Like most other aspects of your business, accommodating the rise in mobility is a process that will continually unfold. Standardizing how you identify the devices people are using when they interact with your network is just the start. While it's an important step, it's one of many that will culminate, ultimately, with the delivery of content that's compelling, regardless of the device on which it's received and consumed.

Mohan is active in the ICANN community. He joined the ICANN Board of Directors in November 2008 as a non-voting liaison from the Security and Stability Advisory Committee. He is the author (with others) of the Redemption Grace Period (RGP) and the IDN implementation guidelines, now global industry standards. He led the GNSO IDN Working Group, is a co-founder (along with the UN and the Public Interest Registry) of the Arabic Script IDN Working Group. He is a founding member of the ICANN Security and Stability Advisory Committee (SSAC), a Board advisory committee comprised of Internet pioneers and technical experts including operators of Internet root servers, registrars, and TLD registries.

Afilias is a global provider of Internet infrastructure services that connect people to their data. Afilias' reliable, secure, scalable, and globally available technology supports a wide range of applications including Internet domain registry services, mobile services and Managed DNS. (For more information, visit

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