A propos, 3.0. Google Gears.

In my last post, I discussed how the more dynamic content we can began to expect from the Internet will make use of applications which not only add features to your browser, but provide desktop utilities to complete tasks normally done solely online. I mentioned that the ability to work offline and upload edited materials all at once seemed so familiar (Juno email client from 1996, anyone?). Today I read that the Google has enabled the facility to access Gmail accounts in an offline state, so that "even if you're offline, you can open your web browser, go to gmail.com, and get to your mail just like you're used to". Presumably the benefit to this over a standalone email client is that it is less cumbersome and more suited to mobile as well as desktop computing (although data will still end up stored on your hard drive).

While the basis for this announcement was offline Gmail, the Google Gears tool upon which it relies can enable offline functionality for virtually any site. There is even a Geolocation API which uses WiFi antenna data, which sounds good from a development point of view.

From Google Gears:

Gears is an open source project that enables more powerful web applications, by adding new features to your web browser:

Let web applications interact naturally with your desktop
Store data locally in a fully-searchable database
Run JavaScript in the background to improve performance

Gears is a plug-in that extends your browser to create a richer platform for web applications. For example, webmasters can use Gears on their websites to let users access information offline or provide you with content based on your geographical location.

So what applications will it have? Can field researchers such as anthropologists, who may rarely have access to a reliable Internet connection, make use of the service, not only for emails, but for data storage? The idea to allow virtually any website to synchronize data when a connection becomes available might be particulary suited to field research in remote areas.

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