Creating a mobile phone website

With the growth in interest in mobile and handheld learning, I thought I’d investigate one of the many new Web 2.0 type start ups that are offering free (at the moment at least) services for setting up websites and web based communities to be accessed on mobile phones and other mobile devices.

The one I’ve started with is a service called Winksite. On the home page of their website the company claims that, “Winksite makes it easy to publish mobile websites and communities that can be viewed worldwide on any phone.” So I thought I would try to set up my own site as an extension of this blog.

What’s good about it

I was actually quite impressed at just how easy it is and at the number of features on offer. Once you have registered, Winksite offers users the opportunity to set up as many as 5 websites for mobile devices. Each site can have a range of features that you can select and edit from a fairly easy to use web based interface. Some of the possible features for your mobile website include:
  • Announcements
  • Blog entries
  • Journal entries
  • Field reports
  • Profile information
  • User surveys
  • Chat rooms
  • Forums
  • Feed syndication
  • Plus a few others
I spent about an hour on Winksite, by which time I had;
  • set up my mobile site
  • added my profile
  • personalised the look of the site
  • created a couple of surveys
  • added chat and a forum
  • posted a blog entry and an announcement.
Once you’ve created your site there is also a tool that allows you to import email addresses from your address book to send out invitations to join, so you can quite easily get people onto your site and publisise it to your friends.

The sites that Winksite creates comply to all the established standards for mobile site, so that’s great too and also means that the site can be accessed through other mobile devices. I use an Opera browser on my Nintendo DS Lite as a kind of wireless palmtop as I roam around the house and garden, so to be able to access the site on that for me is really a great bonus.
The Featured books section is also interesting as it provides a way to access books on your phone, page by page and chapter by chapter, as they are written. This also enables you to interact with the writer as the book is written and discuss various elements through the forums and surveys.

What’s not so good about it
From the Winksite homepage you can also have a look around at the other sites that are being created. This isn’t so impressive, as it seems that lots of people are interested in finding out how this works etc, but it’s hard to find any sites that have more than one or two members signed up, and not many have much content added. That isn’t a criticism of the tool though, I think it’s just that the audience / market for mobile web content is still quite new and there is obviously huge potential here. The makers have also tried to steer you towards the best content by adding an Editor's choice section, as well as having a regular Featured site.

Unless you have a good contract with your phone provider that gives you plenty of web access included, accessing the site could be expensive. Having said this the pages the site produce are all pretty lite and should load pretty quickly, so comparatively, this won't be such an expensive site to access.

How to use it with my students
This is a difficult one. If you have students who come to class regularly, are they really going to want to use a mobile phone based web community to interact with their teacher and the other students from the class? I think probably not. There is also the problem that some students may well not have phones that are capable of browsing websites.
  • If however you have distance or online classes then I could see the possible potential of using a tool like this in conjunction with other web based materials to support students and make it easier for students to work together and keep in touch with you.
  • The site could be useful for a class project. Get the students to decide on issues that they feel are important to them, then set up the site based around one of these issues and try to get students from other classes or schools exchanging opinions and polling each other.
  • You could set up polls and surveys on Winksite as a form of action research to get anonymous feedback from students and create dialogue with them about some of the methods you’re using in class.
  • You could get students to create their own site as a form of learner diary.
  • You could set up a site to keep in contact with the parents of your students and help to keep them informed about what’s going on with their children and any events etc that are happening at the school. You could even post your homework assignments on the site so that the parents check to see that their children are doing the work you set them.
  • You could try to get students to collaboratively write a book/ story from their phone or computer. Decide on the topic first and then ask students to take it in turns to add a page each. Others could interact and vote on what they would like to happen next using the survey feature.
If you want a multi-featured mobile phone website with lots of interactive features, and you don’t want to pay anything for it, this is a great place to start. The feature set is rich and varied and the interface seems to be pretty easy to use. It’s difficult to say though at the moment if having a website that is accessed though a mobile phone has any really significant advantages over one that is purely accessed through a computer. I suppose a lot depends on how much change there is in coming months / years regarding access the web through mobile phones. The popularity of Apple’s new I-phone certainly points towards, this happening, but looking at the costs involved at present, it’s still going to be a while before this kind of access is available to many in poorer countries.

If you try out this tool or have tried similar one please leave a comment.