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BBC kills off WML site

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The BBC has killed off the Wireless Markup Language version of its site, pointing out that no one uses WAP any more – not for looking at web pages anyway.

The BBC's WML page now presents an apology and suggests that XHTML might be a better technology to use, while the formal announcement points out that fewer than one per cent of the BBC's mobile visitors are using WML these days, compared to 20 per cent two years back, thanks to the outright domination of the XHTML standard.

WML is an XML language, and was launched at a time when HTML was a bastard offspring of XML at best; WML pages are required to be perfect (well formed), and are vetted by a proxy server before delivery to the handset. That means the browser doesn't have to check for, or cope with, badly written code – which is what web browsers spend most of their time doing.

WML came with a graphics format too – WBMP (wireless bitmap) – ideal for sending monochrome images to be rendered with a minimum of local processing power. WBMP didn't even have to wait for colour screens to make it redundant, phones capable of shading in grey required something better.

WML and WBMP are both parts of WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) which specified the proxy architecture as well as the file formats. The WAP proxy checks every page delivered for errors, translates HTML pages into WML to reduce the load on the handset, and transcodes images into smaller (and more easily rendered) formats. Which is just what Opera Turbo and SkyFire are doing today, not to mention network operators are still doing a lot of this kind of thing in the interests of network efficiency, and without telling the customers.

WAP still lives on in daily use through WAP Push (a notification service carried over the SMS channel and used to deliver MMS messages, among other things), but as a markup language, WML is really dead. The surprise is not that the BBC has dropped it, but that the broadcaster continued running it for so long. ®

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