Yesterday I wrote about the idea of offline pull requests. It wasn’t a fully formed idea, more of an observation that the current git tooling could improve the offline experience. In the modern, always on, always connected world, the idea of offline might sound a bit strange or out-dated. It might also seem a bit weird for a web developer to be interested in offline because developing for the web is all about being connected.
I like the idea of being able to move relatively seamlessly between online and offline. I’ve found though, that the offline experience is often lacking.
For example, Safari has a feature called Reading Lists. It’s cool and I’ve been using is a lot recently. With a couple of clicks you can add a page to your reading list. It’s s bit like a bookmark, but in addition to saving the url, it has the ability to save the entire page, so you can read it later offline. When it works, it’s amazing.
I’ve found that my workflow has changed significantly. Instead of endlessly infiniti scrolling, I can spend 10-15 minutes in the morning, skimming through stuff in my feeds, adding what looks interesting to the reading list, then disconnecting. At a later point in the day, or maybe the next day, when I have some time, I can read through the articles, make notes, have ideas, write blog posts etc. Awesome right, so what’s the problem?
There are a few. First and foremost it doesn’t work on all websites. I have no idea why that is, I guess websites have to be written in a special way for it to work. I haven’t had time to research this yet, I’d like to know why it only works for some websites. Another issue is that there is no indication that the site isn’t “offlineable”. You click “Save Offline” and it looks like it saved. Later you try to open the site while offline and you just get an error message, I forget the actual wording, but it feels a lot like “You can’t read that because you are offline, idiot”. You used the feature as advertised, and you still got a slap in the face. You keep calm, and carry on with your life. It happens a lot.
I found an option, buried deep in the app settings, that automatically saves each item you add for offline reading. Nice feature, definitely makes things better, but you still get slapped in the face witch the error messages a lot, because loads of sites just aren’t “offlinable”.
I wonder if website owners just don’t like offline because it blocks the click info they get when you are online, maybe it somehow affects their add revenue. With better tooling that’s an issue that could be solved.
It would be great if in addition to the saved page, each linked item in the saved page was also saved for offline reading. And wouldn’t it be cool if there was a way to click a button to get the current page, as well as a selection of other popular articles on that site.
Matt Mulenweg when in Antarctica, prepares for his trip by downloading portions of Wikipedia. Cool idea. I wonder how he does that, I guess he’s got a special Wikipedia reader tool. I’d like to be able to do that sort of thing in more places. Like when browsing a Github repo, save the site, but also save the associated documentation site. I wonder if Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) might be in some way a solution here.
Reading Lists are useful but they don’t work with video. I miss watching Youtube videos. With an offline workflow, there’s no way at the minute to watch video. In the early days of podcasting, people often put videos in their feeds, that was what videobloging was before Youtube. I’m not saying that’s better, I still like watching on Youtube, but I’d love it if there was a “Watching List” similar to how Reading Lists work.
Online experiences are great, but I like offline too. Podcasting has shown us that offline is worth considering, that it’s beneficial to our lives. Let’s imagine a future where offline and online are complimentary.
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