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Vodafone Move Invites Web Development Chaos

kdawson posted about 7 years ago | from the secret-agent dept.

Handhelds 192

hoagiecat writes "Web developers want mobile phone users to be able to access their sites, but mobile browsers generally choke on heavyweight HTML put together for traditional Web browsers. A host of services have sprung up that allow two sites — one for mobile users, one for PC users — to coexist at the same URL, with the browser's user agent string distinguishing between the two. Vodafone has come at the problem from the other end, offering a new service that translates traditional Web pages into mobile-friendly ones on the fly — but it strips out the user agent in the process, breaking sites designed around the other strategy. And Web developers are mad. Will similar moves by other carriers disrupt this nascent Web development ecosystem?"

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Neat! Can I access the cell-page with a computer? (3, Insightful)

Opportunist (166417) | about 7 years ago | (#20740409)

Because I'd love to do without the feature (read: crap) heavy pages and go straight to the content.

Re:Neat! Can I access the cell-page with a compute (3, Informative)

Tastecicles (1153671) | about 7 years ago | (#20740443)

yep. spoof the ua string.

Re:Neat! Can I access the cell-page with a compute (2, Insightful)

fymidos (512362) | about 7 years ago | (#20740677)

most of those heavy pages don't really have any content anyway, why bother ?

Re:Neat! Can I access the cell-page with a compute (3, Insightful)

bateleur (814657) | about 7 years ago | (#20740899)

Straight to the content would be nice, but be careful what you wish for... There's no way advertisers are going to accept the idea that mobile versions of pages have no ads. With the screen area so small what will happen is that ads will appear on separate screens before the content you're trying to view.

Desktop browser ads are mild by comparison. They sit at the top or the side, easily ignored. The worst they ever manage is to waste a bit of bandwidth. I predict people with more powerful phones will soon be spoofing non-phone user agents in an effort to dodge the evil phone versions of ad-supported pages.

Re:Neat! Can I access the cell-page with a compute (5, Insightful)

elementik (622741) | about 7 years ago | (#20741049)

Why dont people just use media="screen|handheld|print" along with optimised code to a) reduce the amount of code sent in the first place, and b) position it properly based on the client I realise you have to download the same amount of HTML which might not be optimised for slower connections but seriously ... isnt that the entire purpose of the media="" attribute ??

Re:Neat! Can I access the cell-page with a compute (2, Informative)

amias (105819) | about 7 years ago | (#20741899)

I presume you mean the ability to specify different stylesheets for different media ,
If so then no , its only for adjusting the layout and will in most cases result in the same stuff being downloaded.
A clever client could try to avoid downloading things that weren't going to be dispayed but most don't ( this is
also a way to pre-cache things).

personally i would do a simple standards compliant page that works on both , its hardly rocket science .
Convincing the marketing people not to fill it with crap is far far harder tho.

Re:Neat! Can I access the cell-page with a compute (1)

Kasracer (865931) | about 7 years ago | (#20741869)

Vodafone, as well as all web developers relying on the User Agent string are taking the wrong approach to this. There is a reason we can specify mobile for a style sheet. First, your website shouldn't be heavy on HTML and should be able to degrade nicely. Secondly, you use the mobile style sheet to tell the mobile browser how to render everything. It's dumb to rely on the user agent string for ANYTHING and completely ignore standards designed to help with this.

Re:Neat! Can I access the cell-page with a compute (1)

Yvan256 (722131) | about 7 years ago | (#20741905)

Then I guess we should stop helping mobile users by sending them smaller graphics at smaller file sizes... How silly of us to try and help them surf websites faster.

Isn't the real problem... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20740453)

that web developers broke the web by making the page served up dependent on the user agent? The whole idea of the web is that any page should display on any user agent. It's the user agent's job to adapt the content to the display, not the server's.

Re:Isn't the real problem... (2, Insightful)

lpontiac (173839) | about 7 years ago | (#20740661)

The whole idea of the web is that any page should display on any user agent. It's the user agent's job to adapt the content to the display, not the server's.

A nice concept that doesn't actually work in the real world today.

Re:Isn't the real problem... (1)

speaker of the truth (1112181) | about 7 years ago | (#20740775)

Actually it does. See Vodafone.

Re:Isn't the real problem... (4, Insightful)

FyRE666 (263011) | about 7 years ago | (#20740693)


The whole idea of the web is that any page should display on any user agent. It's the user agent's job to adapt the content to the display, not the server's.

This just shows you're not a web developer. You might as well say that you should be able to put petrol or diesel into your car and the engine should sort it out. There's very little content that's appropriate for both a 2560x1200 screen and a 120x160 phone display...

Re:Isn't the real problem... (1, Insightful)

IBBoard (1128019) | about 7 years ago | (#20740785)

Not a web developer? IMO it shows he is a web developer and he's one who thinks about XHTML/CSS. For content that can be displayed on both then how about text? Whether it's widescreen or phone display then text should display fine. Have a page serve up content including:

<h1>Page title</h1>
<div class="menuFloatedRight">
<h2>Menu</h2> ...
</div>
<div class="contentWithBackgroundImage">
<h2 class="headerWithBackgroundImage">Some header</h2>
<p class="intro">Some paragraph of introduction</p>
<p>Main article goes here.</p>
<p>And here...</p>
</div>

then along with some CSS the content can be identical for all user agents and each user agent can decide which styles they want to support and hence adapt it. If you're on a mobile then you might want to ignore the background image and the right-floating of the menu, but keep those attributes on the desktop browser, and so the user agent is adapting the content to the constraints of the display.

Re:Isn't the real problem... (4, Insightful)

Andy Dodd (701) | about 7 years ago | (#20741081)

CSS? Mobile Phone? What???

CSS is a complex resource-intensive standard that no browser developer has yet to implement correctly.

A proper CSS implementation in a mobile phone with a 160x120 display and a few megs of memory? Yeah right!

There's also the fact that CSS inherently operates by telling the device what to remove once it has received the full page, as opposed to not sending the device the information in the first place. Not everyone lives in a UMTS or EV-DO coverage area, you know... Even if it formats well for display on my device (an above average 240x320 Windows Mobile 5 PDA phone), a "non-mobile-optimized" site often is 100-200 kilobytes, while a mobile-optimized one is 10-20 kilobytes. (Simpler HTML, no images or only very small ones, etc.) CSS won't help here because it fundamentally means "send everything and let the client sort it out".

Even with CSS, the differences between mobile and desktop versions of a site are more than just formatting. Try going to Google with a mobile device - You'll see that the differences in the site are far more than just formatting.

Re:Isn't the real problem... (1)

IBBoard (1128019) | about 7 years ago | (#20741279)

TBH I'd be appalled if any of my sites had a page anywhere near 100KB for the 'required' downloads (HTML and CSS file but not CSS background images, which wouldn't be "fundamentally required" images).

As for CSS on a mobile phone: 1) surely that means that XHTML and CSS is an even better combination, since the mobile will see the <link> tag and be able to ignore it because it is typed as "text/css" and it knows it can't handle it. It will then be able to just load and display the HTML, and 2) The last phone I bought was three years ago now, and it was bottom of the line (£30) then. The only reason I bought it was because it was about as cheap as buying a battery for my older phone. Yes, the new phone has Internet access (probably WAP) but I've never wanted to be ripped off by the rates they charge so I've never used it. All I know is that newer phones can use Opera Mini, I don't bother looking at what functionality that might include.

Google may give you a different site, but what I was saying is why should they need to? If your mobile browser can handle text and input boxes then why should Google need to serve it anything different as long as it is properly designed?

Re:Isn't the real problem... (1)

umghhh (965931) | about 7 years ago | (#20741645)

I think problem here is the same as in any other area of software engineering. One need software so one saves on engineering skipping it altogether. The result is a mess. The mess can be quite some nice environment for some. Any change to this world however (un)reasonable be fought with whatever means available.

I wonder - have I succeeded in getting modded to hell now or not?

Re:Isn't the real problem... (1)

fmarkham (1091529) | about 7 years ago | (#20740803)

There's very little content that's appropriate for both a 2560x1200 screen and a 120x160 phone display...
Like, say, text? Yeah, there's not much of that on the internet.

Re:Isn't the real problem... (1)

SpinyManiac (542071) | about 7 years ago | (#20740859)

There's very little content that's appropriate for both a 2560x1200 screen and a 120x160 phone display...

Does a 404 count? ;)

Care to give an example of content sized for a 2560x1200 display?

Re:Isn't the real problem... (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20741001)

Sure. That's not a problem at all. Here are two [tinyurl.com] examples [tinyurl.com] .

Re:Isn't the real problem... (3, Interesting)

dominux (731134) | about 7 years ago | (#20741249)

There's very little content that's appropriate for both a 2560x1200 screen and a 120x160 phone display...
how about maps.google.com [google.com] ?

Re:Isn't the real problem... (1)

allcar (1111567) | about 7 years ago | (#20741609)

The whole idea of the web is that any page should display on any user agent
I'm sorry, but that's just a crock of shit - A photo gallery is never going to display well on Lynx. User agents are so different that to cater for the lowest common denominator would result in an incredibly bland and static web. Don't blame the humble web developer for this situation. User agents have continually evolved and engaged in "arms races" in an attempt to propriatise (if that's not a word, it should be) the web. Standards are beginning to help, but there's a long way to go.

Stupid web developers (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20740457)

Relying on a user_agent string is inherently stupid, and that doesn't change just because the device purportedly sending it is a mobile device.

Re:Stupid web developers (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20740587)

Do the mobile web browsers send through the screen/browser size information? I remember looking at log files like 8 years ago and that had those stats. If not I'm sure a little bit of Javascript in a brief intermediary page that redirects to the correct website or sets a session variable would suffice.

Surely the web pages can be coded to check for this size, and if it is less than, say, 480 pixels, then send through the mobile version.

Isn't removing the user-agent string annoying for people who do web traffic analysis as well?

So what else is new? (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20740459)

As a Vodafone "business" customer for the last 15 months, Vodafone is doing exactly what the article claims:

Companies that are on Vodafone's "white list," which is a group of Vodafone-approved services, were notified of the change and the operator is passing the user agent correctly for those services, developers say. ... It's unclear if Vodafone removed the user agent capability for "diabolical" reasons, such as to maintain firm control over the content that users can access, or if it was a legitimate mistake, Harper said.

The issue at Vodafone is they need a revenue engine that cannot be hampered so they artificially create one. With the recent court rulings over VoIP services like Truphone, Vodafone is seeing disruptive technologies come into play. This is just business doing the right thing for itself but not for the customer.

For what it is worth, within the group of people I work with (about 2000 people), many of us are using Truphone over the wireless broadband we are provided. Suddenly, my 400-600 pound mobile bills are now down to 50/month with loads of unused minutes rolling over. The story is similar with many other people here and across other networks. Are you surprised?

Re:So what else is new? (2, Informative)

empaler (130732) | about 7 years ago | (#20740841)

Actually, Opera Mini also does a good job of pounding down the transferred data (YMMV, of course)

Opera.Mini (1)

jetxee (940811) | about 7 years ago | (#20741711)

Opera Mini works great for me. It has a built-in RSS reader. It renders most sites good on a small screen. Reduces traffic. Works with any mobile operator I tried (though I never used Vodafone). It compresses traffic and downscales graphics server-side. It handles Unicode and multilingual stuff. So far it is the best mobile web option for me. It works virtually anywhere, and it is good enough. I even prefer m.gmail.com-in-Opera.mini instead of gmail.app or Google Mobile.

I tried also new Nokia browser (webkit-based) on the E-series phones. It is really impressive, but requires a descent phone. Also it generates much more traffic as it loads the full-blown version of the page. Also some AJAX pages don't work nice with it (e.g. Picasaweb).

Google Mobile is a nice initiative, but it lacks polish and smoothness of Opera Mini experience. In fact it works only in built-in phone browser, which is crap in most phones (except above mentioned Nokia browser).

There are other services similar to Google Mobile (like http://www.skweezer.net/ [skweezer.net] ), but they are of inferior quality to plain Opera Mini.

Possible workarounds? (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20740469)

1. Check IP address. It might all be filtered through the same server(s), so it would be a matter of updating your browser-detect scripts.

2. If there's no user-agent, output the simplest page possible. "But then clients with no user-agent get a simple page," you say. So? If they know enough to strip their user-agent, they might appreciate a simpler site anyway, and they should be able to understand the issue, at least.

Anyway, why would developers be annoyed? If a browser breaks your site, and you're following standards, the blame is on the browser, not on the developer. If it's just impossible to workaround this, it's not your concern. This thing doesn't have market share like IE, so I don't see the big deal.

Web for more than one platform? The HORROR! (0, Offtopic)

An dochasac (591582) | about 7 years ago | (#20740471)

Web developers are going to have to get used to it. They've had years of being able to lazily code, develop and test for a single platform and ignore everyone else.
Now iPhone, along with Nokia's E and N series phones, firefox and the growing popularity of OSX, Linux and other alternatives are finally forcing Web developers to do what they should have been doing all along, coding and testing for actual w3c standards instead of Microsoft's ad-hoc proprietary "standards". (Yes I am aware that w3c standards need to be tightened a bit)

Re:Web for more than one platform? The HORROR! (1)

marcello_dl (667940) | about 7 years ago | (#20740527)

> Web developers are going to have to get used to it.

They have already gotten used to it. Checking sites on IE vs. a proper browser.

What I don't understand is how a tool controlled by vodafone which renders a page in a potentially non standard and undisclosed way would be the way to get used to. Maybe I misunderstood you?

Re:Web for more than one platform? The HORROR! (1)

IBBoard (1128019) | about 7 years ago | (#20740533)

The problem is that even if you code to W3C standard (which I do) using XHTML and CSS or whatever then you can still have a heavy page that is standards compliant but takes an age to load due to what you cram into it. At the simplest level then you could have a standards compliant site that uses Flash for part of it. With the (admittedly poor) idea of "serve depending on user agent" then you can serve simple content to the phone and have it work but a purely standards compliant site wouldn't help there.

Yes, the standards should fix most of the issue in that it should degrade well to a phone display etc, but it won't solve everything.

Re:Web for more than one platform? The HORROR! (1)

ajs318 (655362) | about 7 years ago | (#20741043)

Well, Flash is to all intents and purposes its own user agent. It can make HTTP requests and it can render HTML. Assuming it renders alike on all platforms, it's a quick-n-dirty (TM) way of getting everything to look "right" cross-platform.

The proper thing to do in this case would be for Vodafone's content-munging proxy to declare its own user-agent ident, so that it's at least obvious at the server end that pages might not be rendered exactly as sent -- and knowing exactly what alterations are being made wouldn't hurt web designers, either.

Re:Web for more than one platform? The HORROR! (1)

IBBoard (1128019) | about 7 years ago | (#20741197)

Yeah, Flash is a special case of the "large thing to download as web content" but it was the one that worked best for "great big thing that you need to download".

As an alternative, take dowfiles.com (and probably the whole FileFront network). Even if they coded to standards and used HTML without tables and CSS for all styling then they'd still have a 55KB header image and a total of 166KB of images to load. That means just using standards still won't make all sites mobile-compatible.

ON topic (1)

CarpetShark (865376) | about 7 years ago | (#20741067)

Crazy moderation there. This is the crux of the issue. If people start using standards -- developers AND phone companies, then the problems they're working around will no longer exist.

How does this make sense? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20740475)

Why is no one using stylesheets?

Good question - also Handheld CSS media descriptor (2, Informative)

iBod (534920) | about 7 years ago | (#20740835)

CSS provides Media Descriptors that allow specific stylesheets to be used depending on the presentation media.

'Handheld' is such a descriptor.

Provided the device supports this and use the correct stylesheet there shouldn't be any need to do anything else.

Re:Good question - also Handheld CSS media descrip (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20741829)

"Provided the device supports this" is the key phrase here. They do not. In fact they have all kinds of "strange" bugs that require you to code different pages for different phones. (Standards-compliant webpages will not work on the most common phones on the market.)

Also there are other problems. Dealing with a small screen device, you optimize the images for the target screen. And i mean optimize. You do not only scale them, you crop, resize & convert them. Some devices can do only GIF others only JPG, the next one prefers PNG. There are arbitrary size constraints on the whole page (some devices) or individual objects (other devices) which to add the fun-factor also depend on the gateway. (e.g. Device A with Operator O can download >200KB, Device A with Operator P can not download >195KB, Device B with Operator P can download >200KB).

You will not be able to offer an optimized version without the user-agent.

But the main point here is offering content for mobile phones, e.g. JavaGames. You lose a lot of usability if you cannot determine the device accessing your site.

They should have implemented it in a way that sites which offer the XHTML-MP (Mobile Profile) or WML content-type are simply not touched at all. But i think this is more a question of business politics than technological merit.

Re:How does this make sense? (1)

Potor (658520) | about 7 years ago | (#20741071)

exactly. css media descriptor plus cleaner html.

phones are becoming more popular as browsing devices, and sites will need to change.

Re:How does this make sense? (2, Informative)

Andy Dodd (701) | about 7 years ago | (#20741097)

Because stylesheets don't stop data from being sent to the device in the first place.

It's not just about display, it's about connectivity.

Even relatively "clean" pages like Slashdot's main non-mobile site are too bloated to be easily usable over a GPRS connection.

Re:How does this make sense? (2, Insightful)

fons (190526) | about 7 years ago | (#20741107)

Because people are creating too complicated websites. There are so many div's used solely for the layout that it's almost impossible to define a simpler layout by just changing the CSS. You have to cut out the redundant div's too.

Also (most of the time) there is too much information on one page. Some information has to be close to other info etc. For a mobile site you really need to rethink the content. So you need change more than just the CSS.

I'm talking about big corporate websites here.

Re:How does this make sense? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20741565)

>>Because people are creating too complicated websites.
>>Also (most of the time) there is too much information on one page.

I think I found the problem(s)...

Repent! (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20740507)

Awww did mean old Vodafone got an algorithm to reduce all the bloat web developers put on sites because they use Dreamweaver or other code generation tools?

Time for a addon for firefox with a on/off switch for mobile version of the website :D.

On another subject if this is legal then blocking adds from sites is also no?

Re:Repent! (1)

Frankie70 (803801) | about 7 years ago | (#20741703)


Time for a addon for firefox with a on/off switch for mobile version of the website :D.


Huh - how will that work unless you acccess the website through Vodafone?

more mindphucking on the way (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20740517)

for sale: steaming vdo predatory pedophile servers:

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20070924/ap_on_hi_te/facebook_predators;_ylt=A0WTcVTx1vhGhQYA4xes0NUE [yahoo.com]

& just who

would be licking their chops over the prospect of owning even more steaming vdo pedophile servers?

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20070924/ap_on_hi_te/microsoft_facebook;_ylt=A0WTcVTx1vhGhQYA4Res0NUE [yahoo.com]

what a surprise. must be the monIE? do tell robbIE, ar you in on that won too? maybe just more 'ad' revenue? whatever. see you there?

User-Agent = breakage (0)

KiloByte (825081) | about 7 years ago | (#20740529)

Please, stop giving a damn about User-Agent. Its effects are:
  • you waste ~100 bytes every single time you request something over http, times ~50 objects on a typical page
  • it is a privacy risk; IP+User-Agent is sometimes said to be about as effective means of identifying you as cookies, and it works even if cookies are disabled
  • it is a security risk, as it gives out your exact browser version
  • is useless for telling the server what to serve, as unless you use one of 2-3 mainstream browsers (IE masquerading as Mozilla, Opera masquerading as IE masquerading as Mozilla...) the server won't glean any useful data anyway. Sure, on desktops, browsers other than the usual three are rare, even stuff like Konqueror or Safari counts as "exotic", but the article talks about cell phones...
So just do what many of us do and set your User-Agent to a profane string. Without "Mozilla/5.0 (compatible, MSIE" at the beginning.

Re:User-Agent = breakage (5, Interesting)

hedleyroos (817147) | about 7 years ago | (#20740593)

I have to disagree. I use Plone as a development framework for both "normal" web sites and WAP sites. The user agents are really useful to determine which mobile device is performing the request. This in turn enables me to, say, scale images to an optimal width server side. It saves a lot of bandwidth and makes full use of a larger screen.

I clean the ua's and apply a Jaro Winkler similarity algorithm. This approach results in a 90% successful match, and in the cases where the match is incorrect it return a sibling phone.

As far as the mobile world is concerned UA's are great.

Re:User-Agent = breakage (2, Interesting)

cs02rm0 (654673) | about 7 years ago | (#20740923)

Please, just offer a different site. It's annoying as hell when you then can't browse to the version of the site you want to because of someone else's whim.

Otherwise you're just restricting access to a site someone's specifically navigated to. Offering a second site provides all the benefits you mention of image scaling, etc. without this downside. I'm sick of having to change user agent strings just to view websites.

Re:User-Agent = breakage (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20741157)

Please, just offer a different site.

Yep, and instead of constructing the site automatically based on the capabilities of the phone, you get one that's kind of close? Or should web developers design dozens of different versions of their sites so that phones with flash capability can use it, phones with 40 column text can use it, phones with 480 pixel wide screens can use it, phones with 240 pixel wide screens can use it ...

And you still have to guess the URL that actually will work on your phone.

Or hey, we could all just develop to the least common denominator, imagine slashdot without images, forced wrapping at 40 characters, and everything squished to the left 100 or so pixels, but at least it'll work on a palm!

Re:User-Agent = breakage (1)

KiloByte (825081) | about 7 years ago | (#20740967)

The user agents are really useful to determine which mobile device is performing the request.
Except they work only if you recognize those particular User-Agent strings. And mobile browsers tend to be relatively unknown, so it's likely there won't be anything similar on your static list and thus your similarity algorithms will be of no use. Once someone comes up with a browser you haven't seen yet, your website will fail badly.

And what if a blind person who uses a screen reader comes by? What if that person uses a Braille reader instead? What if it's someone able to see but a person who needs a big magnification? What if I come by using eLinks? And "making full use of a larger screen" needs to know the User-Agent how? The CEO of my company insists on setting his resolution to 800x600 even though it's on a LCD, I use 1600x1200, some folks with better hardware go higher -- and all have the very same User-Agent string.

Having a proper split between semantic markup and styling has none of these problems.

Re:User-Agent = breakage (1)

hedleyroos (817147) | about 7 years ago | (#20741743)

wurfl.sourceforge.net [sourceforge.net] maintains an XML file with LOTS of devices and an exhaustive set of capabilities.

And you always code for the lowest common denominator WAP browser. Features are added for specific capabilities, the most obvious being screen size. I'm all for non-fixed width layout, but it does make sense to fix the width for WAP browsers.

I was also skeptical until I actually designed a site for WAP and the usual browsers from the same codebase.

I agree that WAP sites are dumbed down, but sometimes that is really cool if all you want is the content. And I don't redirect you to a different site if you visit http://wap.bla/ [wap.bla] from Firefox.

Re:User-Agent = breakage (1)

CarpetShark (865376) | about 7 years ago | (#20741137)

The user agents are really useful to determine which mobile device is performing the request.


No, you just think they are, because you only care about a few of the potential visitors to your site. That's probably why the rest don't use it, and why the many future web clients in PDAs, Digital TVs etc., blind user's screenreaders etc. will never use it either.

This in turn enables me to, say, scale images to an optimal width server side. It saves a lot of bandwidth and makes full use of a larger screen.


That's what SVG is for.

I clean the ua's and apply a Jaro Winkler similarity algorithm. This approach results in a 90% successful match, and in the cases where the match is incorrect it return a sibling phone.


Seriously? Do you realise how many pontential users you're dimissing with an algorithm like that? Might as well hash the UA string, xor it with a random number generator, and take the value of the first bit for an if statement.

As far as the mobile world is concerned UA's are great.


If so, it's only because the mobile manufacturers are doing the Wrong Thing.

It's about Ring Tones / Wallpaper / etc not Web pa (1)

twoshortplanks (124523) | about 7 years ago | (#20740685)

The problem as I see it is not really sending back different *web* content, but sending back different *executable* content designed for the phone.

Mobile phone sites use UserAgent to determine what wallpaper or ringtones the device that they're sending supports and send something back that is in the right format / the right size.

It's like when I go to "getfirefox.com" the site knows that I'm on a mac and offers me the Mac version first.

Re:It's about Ring Tones / Wallpaper / etc not Web (1)

iMac Were (911261) | about 7 years ago | (#20741139)

It's like when I go to "getfirefox.com" the site knows that I'm on a mac and offers me the Mac version first.
It does it by searching your history and finding 200 entries at buttplugs.com

Re:User-Agent = breakage (2, Interesting)

Rob T Firefly (844560) | about 7 years ago | (#20741019)

Most of the time, thanks to a combination of the User Agent Switcher [chrispederick.com] and boredom, I'm usually seen from the other end to be browsing on a Commodore 64, a GE washing machine, or a potato with wires stuck into it.

Re:User-Agent = breakage (1)

yoprst (944706) | about 7 years ago | (#20741023)

You won't believe what you can get from some sites if your user-agent string doesn't contain something familiar to them

Re:User-Agent = breakage (1)

red crab (1044734) | about 7 years ago | (#20741867)

Correct. It makes much sense for the web server to see where the request is coming from- whether from a PC or a mobile. If its the latter, the web server can serve a stripped version of the page; if requested. Not all web sites can (or will) implement this feature, but a few select ones can give this a try. Getting a client agent to check what to serve and what to discard will be very sluggish.

It also breaks the Accept header (2, Interesting)

Not Invented Here (30411) | about 7 years ago | (#20740621)

It also hides the original Accept header, and presents a different list of MIME types. To make the problem even worse, it then refuses to pass across files that the phone would be perfectly capable of accepting. For an in-house site I work on, it broke our ability to deliver compiled WMLScript (application/vnd.wap.wmlscriptc) to phones that are perfectly capable of executing the scripts.

Re:It also breaks the Accept header (1)

Tony Hoyle (11698) | about 7 years ago | (#20741755)

Vodaphone have two gateways - the internet gateway, which is unfiltered, and the WAP gateway, which rerenders the page to fit well on a mobile phone. Both have their place, and I prefer different ones for different sites.

Many sites simply will not render well on a phone, no matter how html compliant their browsers are (and most modern phones have full featured browsers these days). The vodophone gateway makes these usable (and for older phones with only WAP browsers it makes browsing actually possible).

If your site really wants to render to the mobile phone itself then tell people to reconnect via the other gateway. Otherwise live with it.

Well done vodaphone (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20740655)

All properly designed pages look fine on mobile browsers. I'm mad that fellow developers don't understand fluid, degradable layouts and accessibility. That's the medium we work in and has always been best practice.

That said, surely the inclusion of a UA string in the translation service and reciprocal HTTP header would allow those few developers who have taken the time to produce a site for mobile devices to have their site display as intended?

Vodafone Move Invites Web Development Chaos (1)

Mipoti Gusundar (1028156) | about 7 years ago | (#20740657)

Vodafone Move Invites Web Development Chaos
Sirs, I wish as representative of fine outsourcing company [newtechusa.com] to be submitting a tender for these exciting project! I think we can show wery strong experiences in these area.

Easy (0)

minginqunt (225413) | about 7 years ago | (#20740663)

Clearly, the proper solution to this 'problem' is for mobile devices to have a proper web browser, rather than some half-arsed cut-down POS.

Now Apple has shown you how to do it, mobile phone industry, I imagine you'll have no difficulty rolling out poor-quality copies in a year or two.

The iPhone Safari rendering engine is even Free as in Something You Guys Don't Understand.

Re:Easy (1)

bWareiWare.co.uk (660144) | about 7 years ago | (#20740733)

The Nokia N-series phones have used WebKit based browsers long before the iPhone was a glint in Steve's eye.

They even released a proper open source version you can compile and install yourself.

Revenue stream (3, Interesting)

myxiplx (906307) | about 7 years ago | (#20740665)

Hmm... I wonder how this fits in with Vodafone's charging.

By breaking the functionality that allows operators to display the mobile optimised pages, they are forcing people to download more content. Even if they only charge for the amount transmitted to the mobile after they've processed it, that's still likely to be significantly more data than people would have had with the optimised pages. And if they charge for the size of the original page (and I wouldn't put it past them), they really are ripping people off.

Either way, I would not be happy with this change if I was on a limited data tarrif.

Re:Revenue stream (1)

cabinetsoft (923481) | about 7 years ago | (#20740713)

they are forcing people to download more content
I used a Vodafone GPRS connection for some time and i found quite the opposite: they would strip the whitespaces and comments out of HTML pages on the fly and replace images with lower quality ones to speed up things.

Re:Revenue stream (1)

myxiplx (906307) | about 7 years ago | (#20741801)

Yes, but if you go to a site that has a page optimised for mobiles, it will usually have far less graphics and text than the regular site. Even if they compress the graphics, the full page is going to be far bigger than the original mobile one would have been.

For example, compare the original BBC news page with their version optimised for PDA's:
Original: http://news.bbc.co.uk/ [bbc.co.uk]
PDA: http://news.bbc.co.uk/nolpda/ukfs_news/hi/default.stm [bbc.co.uk]

They can strip out spaces and compress as many graphics as they like on that original page. The download is still going to be many times bigger than the optimised PDA version.

Could copyright solve this? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20740673)

Copyright limits people's right to copy and modify content. If someone modifies content in face of the owner's expressed wishes, it would seem that they are violating copyright.

The case that makes me think copyright might work involves a sculpture. There was a sculpture of a flock of Canada Geese in the Eaton Centre in Toronto. Some marketing flack thought it would be a good idea to tie red scarves around their necks. The artist sued to have the scarves removed and won. Tying the scarves on the geese was a violation of his copyright. It seems to me that might work for web sites too.

Mobile sites are (usually) pointless (4, Informative)

Random BedHead Ed (602081) | about 7 years ago | (#20740695)

A host of services have sprung up that allow two sites -- one for mobile users, one for PC users -- to coexist at the same URL, with the browser's user agent string distinguishing between the two.

Don't I know it. I use a BlackBerry to surf the web most mornings on the train, and I see these all the time. I've learned to avoid some links specifically because I don't want to waste my time trying to navigate a crappy mobile version of a site. For example, I no longer click on any Reuters or USA Today news links on Slashdot or Digg, because rather serve me the article I asked for, these sites entirely ignore the URL I sent it and drop me on their mobile page, from which (I guess) I'm expected to navigate to the thing I originally wanted. Unfortunately the mobile page contains links to news categories and a list of the most popular stories, and it's usually impossible to find the one I wanted. Many news sites use similar services. The big provider seems to be Crisp Wireless [crispwireless.com] , which proudly announces its responsibility for this crapiness at the bottom of each mobile page.

My newest pet peeve is the BBC News site. If I type "news.bbc.co.uk" in my desktop browser I get the BBC News page. But on my BlackBerry the site ignores the URL and "helpfully" redirects me to a page where I can select whether I want their Mobile or Desktop edition. It's nice that I at least get an option, but it adds a page load to the process of simply reading the news. And when I select the Desktop link they send me to the main BBC site, not the News site, so I get to make a third page load when I click on the News link to visit the page I originally requested about a minute ago.

How are these mobile sites supposed to help us again?

Re:Mobile sites are (usually) pointless (1)

Threni (635302) | about 7 years ago | (#20740875)

> My newest pet peeve is the BBC News site. If I type "news.bbc.co.uk" in my desktop browser I get the BBC News page. But on my BlackBerry the site
> ignores the URL and "helpfully" redirects me to a page where I can select whether I want their Mobile or Desktop edition.

You sure that's not your browser? I have bookmarked the mobile and regular news pages on the BBC on my K800i running Opera Mini and they both work fine.

Perhaps this is a Blackberry thing, though. I don't really understand the point with those. They're more expensive, have less features, and you have to pay for that push email thing. The k800i has a built in email client which you can connect to POP3 servers (ie Gmail) and have it poll for new mail every 5 minutes. But perhaps I'm missing something.

Re:Mobile sites are (usually) pointless (2, Informative)

Random BedHead Ed (602081) | about 7 years ago | (#20740991)

Yes, I think in the case of the BBC site if I were to bookmark the resultant page I'd be able to find it directly again. The BlackBerry provides a list of recently-entered URLs and "news.bbc.co.uk" is still there from when it used to work. Yes, their page might be noticing the BlackBerry in the UserAgent string where they wouldn't have noticed your device - or maybe your bookmark helps.

BlackBerrys use a lot less bandwidth than standard POP3 or IMAP (or HTTP) connections, which is one of the things people like about them. There are advantages and disadvantages, but generally I like the service (and the device).

Re:Mobile sites are (usually) pointless (1)

Threni (635302) | about 7 years ago | (#20741119)

> BlackBerrys use a lot less bandwidth than standard POP3 or IMAP (or HTTP) connections, which is one of the things people like about them. There are
> advantages and disadvantages, but generally I like the service (and the device).

Does it compress HTTP better than other phones then? If I'm reading Slashdot, or my Gmail, how can it use less bandwidth than my phone? Does all data pass through a proxy which compresses it for you and decompresses it on the phone? I think that's how the Opera browser I'm using works.

I'm on an unlimited data 3G service (pretty handy for surfing, email, google maps etc). I kept hearing about Blackberrys when I was looking for a new phone the other month, but there was nothing compelling about them. (Not having a go at your choice of phone or anything - just curious as to whether it was just a popular brand like iPods are, etc).

Re:Mobile sites are (usually) pointless (1)

MythMoth (73648) | about 7 years ago | (#20741079)

Try going to the news.bbc.co.uk/text_only.stm site instead. That's what I use for normal browsing. It's the low-graphics (not text only as the url implies) version of the normal site. Hopefully they don't intercept that!

The mobile web (1)

DingerX (847589) | about 7 years ago | (#20741187)

as viewed by Ari Jaaksi [blogspot.com] of N800 notoriety:

It amazes me that I still see signs of this thinking. Web pages and services are tailored to small screens and people expect that to create the mobile internet. It won't. There is only one internet, and if your device cannot access it, you're out of luck. There is only one internet.

Sure, we can make some sites for mobile phones, but, come on, mobile-phone formatted pages never caught on. It's like camera phones: there might be a case where you can use them, but unless the camera is comparable to a point-and-shoot, it's pretty useless. So too with the internet. Adapting the internet to a device ain't gonna work, because most cellphones are pretty poor at displaying large amounts of information, their processors are pretty damn slow, input is tedious and access speed often quite painful. Since there's little interest, there's little hope a "Standard" way will come about. So every site mucks around with mobile content, when the best solution is to just serve the page, and let the browser deal with it. If your cellphone sucks as a browser, no amount of optimizing will change that. If a website has for cellphones a "low-bandwidth" variant, chances are most PC users would prefer it too.

screw the User Agent (1)

1u3hr (530656) | about 7 years ago | (#20740721)

Basically, the sites affected have two (or more) versions of their site and choose which one to serve depending on the user agent. So in the case, as this, when the browser or proxy agent does not give a useful user agent, don't try to get the mobile company to help you; they obviously are not interested; fall back to ASKING THE USER HIMSELF: just have a little (or big) check box: "click here for desktop, click here for mobile" page. Then store the preferece in the URL and/or cookies (do mobile browsers support cookies?) Or advertise a mobile page, eg:
http://m.whatever.com/ [whatever.com] instead of http://www.whatever.com./ [www.whatever.com]

With the things going as they are... (1)

Mystery00 (1100379) | about 7 years ago | (#20740723)

I doubt it will be long before mobiles can take on these "heavy weight" websites, so lets just wait a year, and then everyone will be happy and these workarounds will be meaningless.

Re:With the things going as they are... (1)

Tony Hoyle (11698) | about 7 years ago | (#20741821)

They already can and have been able to for ages. Most modern phones ship with capable browsers that support flash/java/etc. (except the iphone which can't render heavyweight sites due the the lack of both). The issue is the assumptions of the sites themselves... they often render to a minimum of 800x600 using fixed width tables - so you end up scrolling around all over the place to find what you want. Web designers basically need to get a clue and make their sites work well on small screens as well.

Similar to Opera Mini, but messed up? (1)

smurfsurf (892933) | about 7 years ago | (#20740729)

How does Opera Mini handle user-agent? I understand it also does a server-side transformation of a webpage. Do web developers serve a special version of the page to Opera Mini?

Re:Similar to Opera Mini, but messed up? (1)

onedotzero (926558) | about 7 years ago | (#20741209)

Opera Mini, as far as I understand, requests pages via Opera's servers. These preprocess the web page and send back a stripped-down version to the mobile. It's pretty effective, too, with the newest version collapsing large list items etc.

I don't think I'd really want to browse the mobile web on anything else.

Vodafone has always been technically weird (1)

quigonn (80360) | about 7 years ago | (#20740741)

IMHO, everybody who has developed sites for their mobile portal and had contact with Vodafone's PartnerML should know that Vodafone has always been weird on the technical side when it comes to WAP and mobile web.

Like Opera? (1)

comm2k (961394) | about 7 years ago | (#20740765)

Sounds similar to what Opera does with its Opera Mini browser where when you request a page the browser doesnt request it directly from the net but via a proxy, a server operated by Opera - which gets the page for you, shrinks it and sends it to you. Saves traffic and the page you get is far more pleasing to view on a small screen. I wanted to do something similar with squid on my small server at home - just to have more control about what happens during the adaptation process but havent had the time to read up all the docs on how it could be done.. anyone know of some good recipes that already do something like this?

User Agent Stylesheets (4, Informative)

iBod (534920) | about 7 years ago | (#20740779)

The site content shouldn't need to change - only the presentation.

All that needs to be done is to serve up a different style sheet depending on the user agent, or a default 'safe' stylesheet, or none at all.

Determining which style sheet to use will necessitate peeking at the user-agent so Vodaphones approach could be problematical. Maybe if they had a meta tag to tell their gizmo not to process the site.

Re:User Agent Stylesheets (4, Informative)

suv4x4 (956391) | about 7 years ago | (#20740927)

The site content shouldn't need to change - only the presentation. All that needs to be done is to serve up a different style sheet depending on the user agent, or a default 'safe' stylesheet, or none at all.

As someone who's been through that: it doesn't work.

You see, the mobile stylesheet has suspiciously many entries of "display:none" if you go this way. Which means you discard many of the non-essential elements for the mobile version and reorder the rest to fit a mobile screen, but the mobile users still download the entire damn thing.

And downloading things you don't even SEE is far from perfect for the expensive/slow access points on a mobile device.

Certainly nice that CSS has the feature, but it's not the ultimate solution.

Re:User Agent Stylesheets (2, Insightful)

TLLOTS (827806) | about 7 years ago | (#20741021)

A lot of that really depends on the kind of content you're talking about. For example, on a page with numerous large images one might consider inserting place-holder elements onto which a background image is set via css. By taking this approach you're able to avoid inserting the images directly and instead give css considerably more power in presenting your page to different media types.

Re:User Agent Stylesheets (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20741085)

It would be nice if that worked, but way too many browsers built into mobile phones are too limited in what they understand, old WAP phones won't parse HTML, they just do WML, and are limited in the size of pages (some ridiculously small, e.g. 1300 bytes). XHTML-MP may work as a baseline format for most modern devices, but that's far from covering everything, much less making good use of the limited screen sizes of mobile phones.

Re:User Agent Stylesheets (1)

iBod (534920) | about 7 years ago | (#20741213)

Yes, agreed.

It's almost impossible to use CSS to satisfactorily modify a site that hasn't been designed to cater for mobile devices from the ground up.

If you're ending up with a load of 'display: none' then it begs the question of what value that content had in the first place if you can omit it and still have a useful site. Most of that would be decorative graphics I guess.

If you provide graphics using the CSS 'background' attribute instead of the html img element then it doesn't get sent if 'background: none' which saves a lot of grief.

Re:User Agent Stylesheets (1)

suv4x4 (956391) | about 7 years ago | (#20741263)

If you're ending up with a load of 'display: none' then it begs the question of what value that content had in the first place if you can omit it and still have a useful site. Most of that would be decorative graphics I guess.

You know it's not just decorative graphics. Comments, related articles, breaking news index, search with advanced filters, videos, photos, lots of things.

Those things ARE useful if you have the place for them, and make the site easier to browse and more accessible, but just not on a mobile device where you barely have place to show the main article.

In most cases, we'll have to face it: a site for mobile device should be a site made for mobile device, not just a CSS hack of the desktop site.

Re:User Agent Stylesheets (1)

Yvanhoe (564877) | about 7 years ago | (#20741199)

You don't get it. They just want to be able to serve Flash application of different sizes.

I wish I was joking.

Re:User Agent Stylesheets (1)

miskate (730309) | about 7 years ago | (#20741239)

No necessarily so.

Someone accessing a website that offered mobile phone services could be after quite different things depending on whether they were accessing it from a computer or from their phone. For starters you'd probably want a lot *less* info on each page if you're accessing it from a phone as you have a smaller screen. You're probably also less willing to do a lot of random browsing through a phone, so the navigation would want to be differently arranged.

As someone else has pointed out, just altering the displayed content by using (eg) the display attribute in css is a sub-optimal response to this, as the user would still be downloading all that content but would simply never see it.

Plus you still need the user-agent string to know which stylesheet to load.

Bad idea - here is a better one (1)

Skapare (16644) | about 7 years ago | (#20741443)

This is a bad idea. While there is an issue about how content is displayed, there is also an issue about how much content there is.

What is needed is a new (proposed) HTTP request header that passes the media types (classes) to the server. Then instead of trying to guess the media type from the user agent string, the server will know for sure. For example a request might have the HTTP header "MediaType: display/mobile;geometry=288x384" and a 2nd header "MediaType: audio/stereo;format=mp3,ogg,flac". The server then knows what kinds of media the device has or has enabled. If I turn the sound off, the sound mediat type won't be sent in requests. When I am at home and request a document print (as opposed to a screen print) it could send "MediaType: print/inkjet;hdpi=1200;vdpi=1200" which would clue in the server to limit the content to just what is appropriate for printing.

Your theory "The site content shouldn't need to change - only the presentation." is technically correct. But the point here is to preserve some bandwidth, too, by doing some presentation filtering (only send the media types in use) and optimization (server knows the display size, so it sends small display media or reformats). It's still the same content ... but the parts of the content not needed are not transmitted. On the server side, one way to implement this is to add some XML tags that identify what parts of the conent apply to what media types.

The whole "separate content and style" idea has long had the flaw that too much (usually all of it) content was sent all the time. My above proposal allows the content volume to be limited for transmission while still preserving the fundamental principle of that separation as it applies to the creation of the content. Web sites (such as Vodafone) are really trying to do some kind of content filtering now. This just makes for a standardized way to manage it (so the unreliable User Agent won't need to be used).

User-Agent not reliable anyway (2, Interesting)

DamonHD (794830) | about 7 years ago | (#20740781)

That's why I set up my .mobi site alongside my main one, to present a more appropriate (read: smaller, faster, search box at the bottom) view for mobile browsers. I don't have to guess or translate anything and nore does Vodafone: for this URL I generate .mobi-compliant XHTML straight off.

Other than V managing to content block me from one of my own sites in Australia for a while (even though I have content blocking turned off and there's nothing dodgy about the site) their service seems to work quite well. I don't like stuff being redirected via a 'transparent' proxy, but maybe I could use SSL to prevent that if I really cared I guess.

Rgds

Damon

page tag (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20740807)

can we please have a standard tag on pages that indicates a page is mobile optimised.

(if tag present then this type of service displays the original page such)

Typical (1)

LSD-OBS (183415) | about 7 years ago | (#20740813)

If there's one thing I've learned from working in the mobile telephone industry for the past year, it's that mobile service providers and indeed, mobile handset manufacturers, have their heads so far up their asses so as to be completely out of touch with the rest of the world.

They understand their customers fairly well, but they show complete contempt for third party software developers and existing Internet and communications infrastructures. They lobomotise almost every new useful feature in the face of the demand for said features, and the pump steroids into the features which really aren't important (5 megapixel camera on my mobile phone, when the f**king thing won't even let me send the high quality snaps over anything but infrared?! Get out!)

Now, what's this I keep hearing about a Linux phone?

Chaos? (1)

suv4x4 (956391) | about 7 years ago | (#20740887)

I'm a web developer and I don't whine about chaos when someone's trying to work on my problems.

It's a simple one liner to set the right flag in your code if either the right URL or user agent is detected.

Given the mess we're used to when doing web dev work, panicking about this is laughable.

Never Trust User Input (1)

thenextpresident (559469) | about 7 years ago | (#20741029)

So... this only broke websites where programmers blindly accepted user input and trusted it, right?

Chaos? (1)

sgunhouse (1050564) | about 7 years ago | (#20741075)

As someone who's been on the other side of this issue, I can tell you that Vodaphone is not the one creating the chaos. (Also note, some PC proxies will strip out the user agent.)

I've previously received mobile versions of websites on my desktop, merely because I was using a test version of Opera. Opera 9.0 for desktop hadn't been released yet, really neither had the version for Windows Mobile though that had received more notice. Because my user agent indicated I was using Opera 9.0 on Windows their server decided it really meant Windows Mobile and sent me the mobile version of the site.

Sorry, but having different versions of a site based on user agent is wrong because it is too prone to errors. They should use proper CSS media descriptors, or maybe use javascript to check the size of the screen. At least, unless they actually define a standard for user agent that explicitly indicates the platform type and they are sure most browsers follow that standard.

Google Mobile (1)

brunes69 (86786) | about 7 years ago | (#20741207)

Don't see how this is news. Google Mobile has been doing this for at least a year. Any links to external sites that originate on my m.google.com homepage are automatically "mobile-i-fied" by Google. You can disable the service in your preferences I believe if you want the full size page.

Personally I love the service since it saves me valuable bandwidth and time.

I do not know if Google respects these special User-Agent strings for mobile-specific site versions - and frankly, as a user, as long as the site works, I don't really give a hoot who is parsing it. "Web Designers" need to get their heads out of their ass and realize that the web is a content delivery mechanism, not a publishing and layout mechanism. You have absolutely no guarantee whatsoever on what your content looks like to the end user. If you don't like that than get a real publishing job.

Re:Google Mobile (1)

jrumney (197329) | about 7 years ago | (#20741359)

This is news because Vodafone is not a third party service that the user specifically seeks out, like Google mobile and Opera mini. Vodafone is a network operator, and their customers get this by default without asking for it. Fro the majority of websites, which do not care about mobile users, this is a good thing, but some developers prefer to convert their pages to mobile versions themselves, and Vodafone is taking control over mobile presentation out of the hands of these content owners. IANAL, but it seems there could be some potential for copyright infringement claims here if Vodafone continues their current stance of "we know better than the content providers".

Vodafone, and embracing, extending, extinguishing (1)

Helldesk Hound (981604) | about 7 years ago | (#20741221)

> Vodafone has come at the problem from the other end, offering a new
> service that translates traditional Web pages into mobile-friendly
> ones on the fly -- but it strips out the user agent in the process,

Sounds like Vodafone has been learning from Micro$oft on how to embrace, extend, and extinguish.

proxy (1)

FonkiE (28352) | about 7 years ago | (#20741267)

well if the vodafone life proxy connects always switch to the mobile versions of the site. this is simple. and just change the css if possible.

Three things (1)

Bogtha (906264) | about 7 years ago | (#20741577)

Firstly, if you are differing content based upon the User-Agent header, you are doing it wrong. The User-Agent header was intended for bug workarounds, not feature queries. If you want to know if a browser supports a particular document type, you use the Accept header.

Secondly, another person posted that they block the Accept header. That's a real problem.

Thirdly, proxies that alter content are nothing new. There is an HTTP header that allows authors to mark content that should not be altered by proxies. It is Cache-Control: no-transform. Hardly anybody has heard of it, so I doubt Vodafone respects it, but if they do, then nobody should be complaining. Just use that to stop them messing with it. If they don't support it, then complain and ask them to add support.

white list or alternative internet browsers (1)

XavidX (1117783) | about 7 years ago | (#20741735)

Is it done on a server before it hits your phone or does the phone change the html?
If it is done on the phone just use the opera browser for your mobile phone instead of the build in browser. http://www.opera.com/products/mobile/ [opera.com]

I think it rocks.

And why have a white list. Why not get the sites targeting the mobile market to use meta data much like the meta data used for search engines.

meta name="transformhtmlforbetterviewingsuage" content="nochange"

to me to have a white list is not very good. Imagine if all the mobile suppliers use this technology and all have a white list. bad idea. People develop there sites so they are displayed the way they want it to be. I would be pissed as well if someone changed the way my site looked especially if I made it especially for mobile phones.
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