It’s Not Always About Online

By | March 2, 2006

Software developers used to write programs that looked and worked great on their big-monitored, big-powered, big-hard drived computers, forgetting that most of us have small screens, weak computers and no disk space. Now, with Web 2.0, they’re writing programs that assume we’re always online. Well, we’re not. Cameron Reilly of The Podcast Network, trying to retrieve his flight booking in a hurry, highlights the dangers of relying on something like Gmail when either you, or it, isn’t always online:  

Pull up Gmail to check my booking. Gmail down. GMAIL DOWN??!??!?!?! Get a message saying “sorry, gmail is down. we’re trying to fix it. please check back in a few minutes.”I don’t have a few minutes. Need to get my ass to the airport or miss my flight. Jump in car. Check Gmail again from my mobile while I’m driving (don’t crash don’t crash oh don’t crash) – still down.

Yes, he probably should have printed it out at the time. Yes, he should have saved a copy to his hard drive/phone in case. Yes, we shouldn’t rely on free email services, however big and snazzy the company. But the truth is that (a) Cameron is as human as the rest of us and (b) we use these services as if they are a service, which they’re not. They’re a luxury that only exist as long as the company want them to exist, and as long as we’re online. 

This second lesson is easier to remember if you live in a part of the world where most of the people are not online for most of the day. This is partly because it’s not that kind of culture, and it’s partly because the quality of cable Internet here is so low. But this is a good thing, because it means I never rely on online email for important stuff, and because it means that whenever I find something good I save it somewhere I can retrieve it whether or not I’m online.

Bottom line: I love web-based applications like Basecamp. But I’m never going to build critical tasks around them so long as I can’t access them, or a recent backup of them, when I’m offline. This is one area where the likes of Groove have an edge. And while the argument may follow that one day everyone will be online, I’m betting that one day, too, everything will come to a shuddering halt when the Internet fries one day and we’re all scrambling for our offline backups.

Oh, Cameron made his flight ok, by peering into his offline backup. In this case his brain.  

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