Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Offline Internet User in a Development Context

Introduction

This post is being discussed in the context of ICT for development. In a blog post Web2.0 - potentials or obstacles for connectivity? ckreutz had been discussing Internet related connectivity problems. Checking the upload and download speed using dial-ups, he came up with this...

"I checked it through CNN.com and it took 4 minutes to load the website with a 20kb-normal-African-university-connection. I, myself, had an interesting experience when I was in South Africa last year. I was faced with volume packages for internet. Suddenly, a YouTube video was not a choice, and Skype calls were much shorter. I had to think it twice whether to go on overloaded fancy news sites or not".

Speed might not be the only problems facing poor countries. Working offline and later connecting to the Internet for updates can make a lot of difference in the development context. This post discusses how this can be done using an email client, a web browser, blogging and tweeting. This list is not conclusive. There might be other good ones out there. Using calendars offline/online would be discuss in a later post.

E-mailing

Emails can be easy to read when swapping between online and offline usage. Online emails are downloaded to computers and read later when the Internet is not available using an email client. There are various email clients, common among them are Microsoft Outlook and Windows Mail. A beginner would like to choose Windows Mail since it comes preloaded with Vista. To add a new email account click ‘accounts’ on the ‘tools’ menu and click ‘add’ to open the dialog box. Follow procedure in the linked video.Windows mail_

Apart from that, message rules can be set to incoming mails to be redirected to a created folded depending on your needs. So you get your mails how you want it and where you want it. This can provide enormous flexibility to the user who has to switch between staying online and offline.

Browsing

You can subscribe to feeds to automatically check for and download updates that you can view when offline. Feeds are alternatives to email. They provide you with an update to a website when something new is added. Internet Explorer 7 (IE) can discover and display feeds as you visit websites. IE finds available feeds, the Feeds buttonclip_image002, located on the Internet Explorer toolbar, will change from gray to orange and/or play a sound.

  • To subscribe to a feed, click the Subscribe to this Feed button ie7three, and then click Subscribe to this Feed. Type a name for the feed and select the folder to create the feed in. Click Subscribe.
  • To view feeds click the Feeds button (see below). If multiple feeds are available, you'll see a list of available feeds. Select the feed you want to view. When you click the feed, you'll see a page displaying a list of items (topics and articles) you can read. ie7two

There are other third party add-ons that can support offline experience with IE7. These include Google gear, PDF Creator and Microsoft XPS Document Writer. Web pages can be stored using these tools and used when offline. The PDF Creator and Microsoft XPS Document Writer would give you the same results except that the former is compatible with the widely used Adobe Reader

Blogging

writer_screenshot Blogging can also bring a wonderful experience to the offline user. Writing new and editing old blogs is possible with Windows Live Writer. Windows Live Writer can create and post entries on your blog and works with a variety of blog services as seen in this linked video. To configure Writer to connect to Windows Live Spaces, or a blog service you must already have an account with a Windows Live ID or created an accounts with blog service like Blogger. After the account is created you can then blog online and offline.

Tweeting

One useful tool for offline tweeting is the twhirl. Loic Le Meur blogged about 20 reasons why Seesmic acquired Twhirl highlighting some good uses of twhirl. In addition to that, the offline user is able to read tweets using twhirl. To use twhirl you must have a twitter account and/or Pownce and Jaiku. You can also use it on aggregators like friendfeed. This linked video shows how to setup twhirl after downloading.

Emails or RSS Feeds?

Sometimes people are caught in between receiving updates via email or RSS feeds. Emails work well if the communication is personal and intimate otherwise RSS feeds is the ideal. With RSS feeds you choose who to receive updates or information from and not the other way round with emails. It also complements anti-spam objectives giving you much control over your information needs. But not many websites has an RSS Feed so in that case the obvious choice is email.

Blogging or Tweeting?

Beth answers this question by asking

What does the person want to accomplish?
What types of conversations are they hoping to engage in?
What type of learning?
Who are the people they want to talk to?
What are the preferred communications channels of those people?

[She answers by deliberating on twitter first...]

The 140 character limit forces you to be succinct and zero in on the essence. That's a good skill. The downside is that it can lead to miscommunication or misunderstandings. And beyond quick information exchange -- if you want a deeper reflective conversation, twitter is not the place to have it. Summarizing Twitter responses - if you want a facilitated conversation - is not easy, although with tools like this - that may change.

[She went on giving examples...]

Twitter is great for just-in-time, quick answers. What's your best tip for x? What camera should I buy? Help, I'm stuck in Minneapolis airport, anyone to share a cab?

[What about blogging?..]

A blog is great for more reflective practice. And while some say it is difficult to track conversations on blogs, it is possible to have a cross blog conversation (it is messy, like conversation threads on Twitter.) Blogs are also an excellent place to aggregate conversations - on twitter that difficult, although the 08NTC Twitter account helps to do that more effectively.

[It is also possible with friendfeed. Twitter can also be aggregated using RSS feeds like xxxx/with others]

Twitter brings the flow to a conversation like the normal human chat but it is one-to-many that makes it look like everyone is shouting a message across [a one-to-one add-on interface would enhance it use or probably an integration with an IM]. Blogs on the other hand is like someone giving a speech and comments follow after that [this is ideal for one-to-many conversation]. One commonality with the two is there is a recorded history of it unlike the human interface.

Conclusion

For the offline user an email client can save connectivity problems as well as using the facility to sort mails to folders of choice. Browsing using RSS feeds have enormous benefits when offline and the user can decide who to receive information from. Windows Live Writer is an offline application for blogging so does Twhirl for tweeting. With these applications and tips users who do not always have Internet connectivity can be able to do their work with ease. There other very useful offline applications beyond my knowledge. If you have any other application that can help the offline user do not hesitate make it known.

Related post: Tweets or Blogs - A Personal Perspective (1)

Further reading:

Ray Sims' Does Twitter fill a communication void? discusses communication alternatives.

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