Making Web Apps Better

The digerati is no stranger to the dead pool – but there’s recently been a mega slashing by Google. Jaiku became an open source project, development stopped on Google Notebook, uploads ceased on Google Video, and Dodgeball went the way of the dinosaur. That’s after GOOG pulled the plug on Lively back in December ‘08. Hopefully, they are done with their “re-organizing” for a while.

Considering that these products died (or are dying) at one of the leading Internet companies, more and more questions have arrived about web apps and their reliability. That’s especially the case of those examining cloud storage and the much touted “Gdrive.”

Web applications haven’t proved to be everything that so many people thought they could be. **Accessing the same data on any machine with only the need for a web browser has proved to only be a “beta” for the software-as-a-service paradigm. **If you think about the “system requirements” of the traditional client installation, in the web app model, the necessities are an Internet connection, browser, and often an e-mail address. But it’s time for that to change. Here are some of the standards that should be adopted:

1. Offline Access

While Internet access is becoming more ubiquitous, there are still are many situations where connections are either unavailable or spotty. To be useful, web apps need to be available at all times, whether in an “offline” mode through the browser or in some client installation that stores changes locally and syncs them back to the network when connectivity is once again present.

2. Offline Storage

Offline access and offline storage go hand-in-hand. Users of web apps should be able to view or edit network data and create new data, regardless of the state of their connectivity.

3. Data Export (and Import)

Users are at the mercy of web app providers, especially because many web apps are free. It’s been a mutually beneficial relationship though, because companies running web apps typically thrive with a large user base. With web apps dying and issues of trust and reliability becoming paramount, it will take more than a cool product for people to get hooked on a new web app. They’ll need assurance that if the service dies, they can easily take their data with them in a standard data format. And because there are now web apps providing similar services, importing data from another service (again, in a standard format) should become a baseline feature.

4. Constant Syncing

There should be constant syncing between local and network storage. This shouldn’t be an option, it should be built into the web app and working by default. It not only protects the user, it makes them happier because they can use the product with all the same data wherever they want.

5. Better Terms of Service

If you take the time to read many of the “Terms of Service” (TOS) offered by web app providers, you’ll find that you have little to no rights. Not only that, most providers give themselves the ability to immediately shutdown their services. Even if their service or elements of it are free, that puts users in a bad position. Users need fairer TOS.

6. Richer “Webtop” Experiences

There’s more that can be done in an AIR-like environment than a standard browser. That will likely change over time but web apps can greatly benefit from leveraging client-side computing power with server-side storage – the webtop.