Stock tickers, sports scores and Yeats?

Just as the early days of the Web abounded with sites full of culture, artists with a penchant for cutting-edge technology are now going mobile with their messages.

Ben Charny Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Ben Charny
covers Net telephony and the cellular industry.
Ben Charny
3 min read
Deep in the trenches of the wireless Web, between the endless march of stock market updates and sports scores, Justin Siegel has split open his soul. And he is wailing.

"Tha rain iz pounding the staRZ...like an o-peeum frigid pederast," the publisher of the Left Bank Review says from the postage-sized screen of his wireless-accessible Web site, Justin Siegel's Poetry Page.

Just as the early days of the Web abounded with sites full of culture, offbeat scribblings, and odes to some of the giants of literature, artists with a penchant for cutting-edge technology are now going mobile with their messages.

Google estimates there are more than 2.3 million WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) pages available for viewing. Industry watchers say the content, created either professionally or through a number of third-party companies such as TagTag--which has helped people create more than 25,000 free WAP pages--is nearly all set up by individuals. WAP is a set of software technologies that lets a Web page built for the Internet be viewed on the wireless Web, which requires different interface characteristics.

There appears to be no dearth of unique content. But are people really going to squint to view a cramped wireless Web page presenting poems by William Butler Yeats or sonnets by William Shakespeare?

Therese Torris, an analyst with Forrester Research, suggests that content for the first WAP phones should be tailored to those who own them, mainly the business community. Wireless content generally falls into three categories: personal pages, corporate pages or business pages.

Of politics and haiku
But there are a few warriors out there like Siegel who say they are trying to save the wireless Web from the endless stream of business sites, stock tickers and sports scores, much like the renegades who populate the Net with sites on various off-the-beaten-path topics.

Siegel, in fact, doesn't even have a wired Web page. He's strictly wireless, and on a mission to cram a little culture into his chosen medium.

"I thought it would be cool to let someone read a couple poems while they are waiting for a bus, or killing time," he said.

There are more. A pair of Toronto, Canada, natives living in Brooklyn, N.Y., early last year started offering WAP-based "The World's Shortest Political Commentaries"--60-word epithets on the latest political inanities.

In another instance, a few clicks and a wireless Web wanderer lands on a page with the rosy greeting of, "Hi there WAP people," which tops off the page posted by "rouse," a self-described fan of French symbolist poet Jules Laforgue.

"I thought it was about time the great man became portable. After all, the great obsession of Laforgue's life was trains," according to the Web site.

There's "haikuland," whose creator describes it as a "German site for all who love Haiku as much as I do."

The wireless Web's Hollywoodburn is devoted to independent films. I-poetry is a haven for poets.

Why culture is hard to come by
Analysts say the wireless Web remains best for simple tasks, such as checking a stock quote. Underlying pessimism concerning cultural sites is that surfing the wireless Web remains difficult. It is slow and cumbersome compared with a home PC hooked up to a high-speed line, says Tellef Ogrim, editor of WAP.com.

"If you surf to Web pages that aren't functional, then you can surf on and you're not really annoyed," he said. "It's (more time consuming) to be exposed to worthless things on the phone than the PC."

Using a mobile device, someone has to type in a long URL on a tiny keyboard, or find the sites using two different search engines that need up to four or five different entries apiece.

The sites can also be accessed through the wired Web. But once again, it's a complicated process. Someone has to first find a wired Web portal offering a collection of the sites to view. Then that person has to find a program that translates WML, the language of the wireless Web, into HTML.

The range of content and services is narrow because of another dilemma: advertising, says Mvh Svein, the publisher of poetry magazine "Ogglebokk," which appears on the wireless Web.

"Advertisement opportunities are limited on the wireless hand sets," he wrote in an e-mail. "Like most things, the issue of content comes after the initial 'excitement' about the technology wears off."