Google Wireless Transcoder

Posted on February 16, 2008

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When I first started using Gmail on a mobile handset, I noticed that Google reworked any websites linked to from my emails, adapting them to work better on my phone.

A bit of investigation turned up a name for this feature: Google Wireless Transcoder (or GWT, not to be confused with Google’s other GWT)

You can access GWT here, whether using a phone or a regular browser. You can also directly access sites using a simple query string like so: http://google.com/gwt/n?u=shift.co.nz

As you can see from this example, GWT is a proxy that reworks webpages, stripping them back to make them mobile friendly. Along the way, it does some interesting things:

  • it removes most advertising, by virtue of stripping javascript
  • it “rolls up” much of a page’s navigation; this can be “unrolled” on demand
  • it provides a generic header with a Table of Contents (derived from H1 and H2 tags) and links to RSS feeds
  • it breaks long pages over multiple sub-pages.

Some of those things it does surprisingly well; it is very good at detecting generic navigation and tucking it out of the way.

On the other hand, it folds, mangles and mutilates the site to suit a baseline mobile browser experience; any design will not survive.

Some people clearly don’t like it. I can imagine it making the odd designer cry too, especially if they lavished time on a handheld stylesheet.

If you’ve got a capable web prowser on your phone, then this isn’t that interesting. But if you’re not rocking Safari, then this makes some otherwise unusable sites sing on a handset.

Google does claim that you can contact their mobile support team to “opt out” of transcoding. And it’s important to recognise that this is Google acting as a proxy, not a search engine — so it’ll ignore your ROBOTS.TXT file.

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