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A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Mobile Web


The mantra of mobility is in everyone’s mouth these days, regardless of whether they’re talking about advertising, business applications or shopping. Oracle is gearing up a new line of applications designed from the ground up for mobility while SugarCRM has announced plans to support the iPhone and the BlackBerry.

The focus is all about bringing the Web experience to the mobile device — which, let’s face it, is the phone. But some funny things can happen on the way to the mobile mecca — like forgetting what phones do well that computers don’t.

This was brought to my attention forcibly by a recent blog post from social media marketing goddess Lasandra Brill, which described using Amazon’s TextBuyIt. It’s a textbook example of just how far clever people can go in traveling the long way round the barn.

Here’s how TextBuyIt is supposed to work from your mobile browser. If you want to buy something you send a text message with the product number or name and Amazon calls you back to confirm the order. Here’s Brill’s report:

“I sent the ISDN number for the book I wanted and Amazon was able to find the title and I received a text back with the pricing info. I then sent back the code to complete the purchase followed by a message with my email address and zip code related to my Amazon account. I then received a message back from Amazon that said ‘We were unable to find an item matching your keywords. Place your order online at’  But they had just sent me the item info that I wanted.”

Aside from the fact that the application has some obvious bugs, this is what happens when businesses start drinking their own Kool-Aid. Amazon is so focused on the computer-centric way of doing things they pioneered, that they’ve lost sight of the device this application is being used on.

In the process, they’ve created a complicated Web-centric process to do what phones aren’t good at — typing — instead of a simple one based on what phones do well — making phone calls.

A simple click-to-call in the browser application would transform this into an elegant one-step process that wouldn’t tell customers to place their orders online. Maybe I should phone them and let them know.