Monday, June 19, 2006

Internet connection not required

In this previous post, I mentioned that one of the ways to handle the connectivity problem of a tropical region is to cache data locally and sync with a central server when a connection is available. Well, guess what ?

A company called Webaroo has done just that. Webaroo recently released a free beta of their web unplugged service. This service allows users to search and browse portions of the web anytime, anywhere and unconnected. It accomplishes this by crawling the web, analyzing the pages and creating topic specific web packs for download. The downloads are stored locally on a users computer and served via the Webaroo server/client over local http. In addition it allows a user to cache and index specific websites for offline browsing. The locally stored data is updated when the user goes online.

The Webaroo server/client is a free download with the following system requirement:
Laptop/Desktop System Requirements

  • Windows XP SP1+ or Windows 2000 SP4
  • 1 GHz+ Pentium class processor or equivalent
  • 500 MB RAM (Recommended 1GB for larger Web Packs)
  • Internet Explorer 6.0+ or Mozilla Firefox 1.5+
  • Microsoft .Net 1.1 (Downloaded during installation if required)
  • Broadband Internet connection while downloading and updating content
Sadly, the system requirements are not tropically friendly. In addition, on my DSL line(384Kbps - 1.5Mbps), it took about ~15-30 minutes to download the world soccer web pack. On the "plus" side, a search for Ghana, whiles offline, did not fail to remind me of Ghana's 2-0 loss in the FIFA world cup game against Italy.

For those of us who are unable to meet the system requirements, a poor mans version can be implemented using a browser. Most browsers allow a user to save specific web pages for offline browsing. A more challenging method, would be to write/modify a Firefox extension to provide similar functionality.

Alternatively, the combination of web feeds and news aggregators present interesting tropically tolerant ways to access web content. I will cover this in a later post.

There is an argument to be made that instead of developing technologies to cache and serve data we should focus on expanding broadband availability. My response would be, there is nothing wrong with a multi-tiered approach or a stopgap solution.

In a world where internet connectivity is intermittent, cache-and-browse is the way to go.