Offline MLS

May 30, 2007  |  Michael Wurzer

This whole post is pretty funny in light of my ribbing of Google the other day over the lack of integration between Reader, Gmail and Dashboard. But, it was just a ribbing and my point still stands: getting software right is hard. The announcement today by Google of Google Gears, however, may be a huge step towards solving one of the most intractable computing problems around: on-line and off-line access to data through a browser application.

There certainly are other development platforms that have promised this holy grail, and there are those who think off-line access is unnecessary, but I think Gears has the potential to be very valuable, particularly in the MLS space. We’ve had an off-line companion to flexmls Web for some time (it’s called flexmls PC), but that essentially has meant maintaining two sets of code and limiting flexmls PC to Windows users. Though we have a lot of research to do regarding Gears and its capabilities, I’m hopeful Gears will prove very useful and maybe even allow us to move towards a single set of code for both on-line and off-line use in any operating system and create possibilities for entirely new feature sets as well.

I think there are many MLS functions that will benefit from off-line access. Though smart-phones and wifi cards are making Internet access from the car and other places easier, the reality is that, today, such access is often more frustrating than rewarding. Being able to sync a significant number of listings or searches to your laptop or tablet before going to meet a client will be very cool. Other possibilities are syncing up CMA presentations, listing tours, electronic forms, and your contact database. What MLS functions do you think would be advantageous to have off-line?

To help generate some ideas, I downloaded Gears for myself today, which Google has already integrated to Reader and thought I’d show you a bit how it works in practice. First, Gears includes a browser plugin for syncing and a local database, the key to storing data off-line. Once Gear is downloaded, going to Google Reader in my browser (Firefox) immediately recognized that I had Gears installed:

security_warning

Once Gears is allowed, Reader adds a new option in the upper-right corner to go off-line:

going_offline

Clicking the offline mode, Reader starts downloading 2,000 of your messages to the local database:

download_data

That’s all there was to it. Once the data was downloaded (took less than a minute or two), I was in offline mode and could turn off my wireless and read through all 2,000 messages if I wanted. One thing I noticed was that the sync didn’t work quite right, because there were several messages marked as unread that I actually had already read. As soon as I went back on-line, the messages were properly marked as read.

Another not-too-suprising issue is that posts with pictures, video and other media only show the text. I’m hopeful that will be a limitation that can be worked around as the inability to sync images and other media would be a bummer for an MLS application. Generally, though, issues like image syncing in a manageable manner will be some of the core design decisions that will make this type of development challenging and fun. In flexmls PC, we give the user choices to download a variety of levels of photos, but I think a browser application will have to be even more limited in the photos that can be stored off-line. Perhaps that leads right back to the question of how practical it is to deal with huge databases off-line and what functions will prove beneficial to agents in the field.

Let us know what you think.

6 Responses to “Offline MLS”

  1. Hi,

    I was wondering why you think I was suggesting offline access is unnecessary? Rather on the contrary, I think this is a very much needed advance in useability of web apps.

    Artur

  2. Artur, sorry about that, the link was wrong, I meant to link to DHH’s post referenced in your article. I’ve fixed it up now, I think. Again, sorry for the confusion.

  3. Matt Cohen says:

    Security issues in Google Gears:

    * There is no offline authentication (beyond operating system login). Consider the ramification on shared computers alone.

    * There is currently no means to encrypt data in storage

    I wonder what happens when multiple sites try to use the same database name for their own distinct databases. I hope Google has accounted for this and the second site to use a database name doesn’t run up against the ‘same origin policy’ in an inelegant way.

    I’m very excited by Google Gears – when Google Mail is Google Gears enabled I may want to start using it for some applications. I *am* on planes fairly often and need offline access.

  4. Wow. Combine this with Microsoft Silverlight or Adobe Apollo and you open the doors to a truly unified codebase for rich apps that are connection agnostic and cross-platform.

    Matt C points out some very salient issues with this beta, but presumably those are the things that will be worked out before full release. Particularly since Google is undoubtedly trying to resolve its issues with poor business adoption of Google Apps.

    Great catch, Michael! I’ll have to start playing with this soon.

    -Matt

  5. Matt Cohen says:

    Matt L. – Full release? Google has kept things in beta for months or years before! I have hopes that these capabilities would be added quickly, but in the meantime I fear people will start using Gears for business use, either assuming that Google has taken care of security or not thinking about the security ramifications at all.

  6. Matt C. – Very true: Google Finance and Google Base are still “Beta” and have been out forever. So, permit me to rephrase… I’m sure those issues will be worked out before they use it for Google Apps. 🙂 Surely they know that no (serious) businesses will adopt their application platform without a full security model. This week’s upswell in cash ($1B) alone could finance a few security development teams…

    -Matt