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Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Browsing on a Bandwidth Budget

Despite the recent landing of the SEACOM cable and operators rolling out their own local infrastructure, it's easy to forget that many local users are still severely bandwidth constrained, be it due to corporate policies or restrictive internet packages-if only at the end of the month when we start watching that limited bandwidth allocation tick down to zero.
The good news is that one of the best things that the explosion of cellular internet has resulted in many major websites and services to implement low bandwidth versions of their offerings to grab that precious mobile browsing market share. All a bandwidth-limited web user needs to do is get into the habit of using these mobile versions in their PC browser when bandwidth starts getting tight.
Bookmarks and the All-in-One Firefox Sidebar
Firefox's All-in-One Sidebar extension is a great host for these mobile-formatted sites. The narrow view is very much like the screen they were designed for and the text wrapping logic that often makes them unreadable in a full size browser screen works well within the sidebar's limits.
Mobile website sometimes have crazy URLs hidden behind automatic agent detection scripts triggered when the top level URL is visited, so it's worth storing these in a bookmark once they have been tracked down. I use the bookmark toolbar exclusively for these mini-sites.
In Firefox 3.5 the process is very simple:
1. Visit the mobile page you want to bookmark as normal, by entering the URL directly into the address bar or following a link.
2. Click the star icon in the address bar once to bookmark the page, and then a second time to bring up the bookmark parameters.
3. In the "Folder" drop-down list, choose "Bookmarks Toolbar" and click "Done". The bookmark favicon and title should now be visible in your bookmarks toolbar.
4. Right click on the icon for your new icon and select "Properties" to open the extended properties for the bookmark.
5. (optional) If, like me, you prefer to keep your toolbar label-less (the favicon makes it quite clear which site the bookmark represents), clear the "Name" field.
6. Check "Load this bookmark in the sidebar", and click "Save".
You should now have a simple button with the site's favicon that when clicked opens the site in your sidebar.
Sidebar everything with Google Reader
Some of the biggest browsing bandwidth hogs are the unnecessary stock images and huge banners (ads or otherwise) displayed on many websites. All you really want is the content after all. A great way to cut down on all that bandwidth leeching is to subscribe to the RSS feeds of your favorite sites in Google Reader and use Google Reader's great iPhone version ( or generic mobile version ( in your sidebar as above. Some sites do limit their RSS articles to just be a summary of the main articles, but at least in those cases you're just getting hit for the articles you actually want to read.
Other google services
Google has implemented mobile versions of just about all their services, and direct URLs for some of them can be found here. If there's anything missing, chances are visiting the main URL on your mobile (i.e.,, etc) and then using the resulting URL should work just fine.
Sidebar social networking
Social networking sites often have some of the best mobile website implementations. As an example I find Facebook's mobile version is actually more useful for quickly getting in, checking messages and notifications, and getting out. URLs for some of the popular services include:
FriendFeed (third party):
Ebuddy (for chat across many services):
You'll notice that very often the mobile site url is simply and that's usually a good starting point to track down whatever mobile site you're looking for.

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