There is an industry standard emerging to deal with things like viewing
of content by different access devices and bandwidth. You've probably
heard of XML (extensible markup language). The basic idea is you develop
"content" or format "data", or whatever it may be, in a manner that is
independent of transmission and display, and write it in XML. Then your
server processes the data through a filter defined by a "stylesheet"
specified in a language called XSL (extensible stylesheet language). THe
stylesheet processor takes your XML data and transforms it, according to
the rules in your XSL stylesheet, generating on-the-fly HTML for
desktop browsers or WML for mobile devices, or SQL for a database, or
your own specialized browser for viewing/editing/submitting e.g. medical
or meteorological data, etc. etc.
This is an elegant solution that is fast becoming the "right way"(TM).
Say you have 100 pages or pieces of data on your site, and, three
types of clients: 1) Netscape/IE on PC, 2) Minibrowser or cell-phone or
PDA and 3) email-access via a http-email gateway. Instead of having 300
pages (one copy of each page for each type of viewer) to create and
maintain, you have 100 xml pages and 3 stylesheets. You can easily see
how that makes a huge difference as your site scales up in size and in
variety of access methods.
Similarly, you can use this method to convert prices in to local
currencies depending on the location given by the browser, or translate
certain key words into a different language on the fly.
This will be even more crucial when most net access devices will not
even have a human attached to them, as it will be mostly machines
exchanging tons and tons of data.
The possibilites are endless.
XML/XSL sounds complicated but it is actually simple. If you've seen
HTML code, you will find XML very familiar but more structured, and
more flexible. Most importantly, it is readily accessible and usable
today. If you use apache as your webserver for example, you can start
using it after a couple of days of poking around, and you can do it with
all open source ("free") software. Since these are standards backed by
the whole industry, with the security that the work you do today will
not be obsoleted by some decision in marketing departement in some
Now, if you'll allow me one paragraph of pomposity.... (if not, skip
this, and check out the links below) the idea of structuring and
representing data (including web pages, databases, anything) in a manner
that is independent of transport and display is a very big deal. With
HTML/HTTP, we have separation of data formatting+linking from
transport, and that is the conceptual essence of the WWW up to now. But
the limitation is that with HTML, formatting for display and the
underlying structure of the information are hopelessly mixed up. Now
we're seeing the next step. With XML, you get the structure independent
of the output, and with XSL you generate appropriately formatted output
on the fly with great flexibility.
Hope this is of some use.
P.S. Some places to get started:
Great resource especially for tutorials, examples etc.
Tools to work with
The overall "portal"
Quick reference for syntax when writing stylesheets:
The master reference, standard, very complete, but a little
hard to read
P.P.S. I am expecting a dismissive flame from the person who used to
claim the web is useless, and e-commerce is a pipe-dream ;)