It takes sitting through only one blackout in a dark house to get you to make sure you have candles, fresh batteries, portable radio, analog phone, etc. handy at all times thereafter. This morning, Chris posted about the downfall of online applications, focusing on what you would do if the online data you were counting on wasn’t there. Let’s look at that another way…what if the data is fine, but you can’t get to it? As a web worker, your connection to your professional life is held together by your connection to the Internet. There are days where that cord feels more like a fishing line than a sturdy, thick rope.
Be prepared and check your batteries now, while the pressure is off. Intentionally disconnect your computer(s) from the ‘net and try and work productively. Where are the roadblocks between you and getting the job done? Do you have a Plan B for your critical paths? In addition to my blogging addiction, I am employed by a small nonprofit organization focused on colorectal cancer patient advocacy. I live 200 miles away from our national office. I tried it this morning, as I was stuck on a long train ride and I decided to take out my laptop and work rather than read a magazine or heaven forbid…get some sleep.
I can blog. All I need is a text editor, preferably one with spell check. Save, upload later. Done. No editing drafts, though. I can fix this by configuring an offline editor. I highly recommend ecto on the Mac OS X side and Windows Live Writer on the XP side, but there are enough choices on either platform (and even through cell phones) that offline blogging is easy. I can even pull in links from del.icio.us thanks to the new del.icio.us bookmarks plug-in for Firefox, which replaces local bookmarks with a copy synced from del.icio.us.
Email is covered. My cell phone does GPRS/EDGE so I can check email anywhere Cingular has coverage. Technically, I could tether my cell phone to my laptop so I could use the phone’s Internet connection on the laptop, but I’ve discovered that may or may not be a pricey solution so I’m avoiding it. I save email locally when I download it (in Mail on OS X, Outlook in XP). I can read and reply to already downloaded mail at any time. I also automatically forward all email to designated Gmail accounts for further backup (do you get the idea that email is important to me?).
I use RSS to keep up with news in my industry. I can read news feeds that were downloaded when I was last online, thanks to NetNewsWire in OS X and FeedDemon in XP. Both applications are owned by NewsGator, so I have one central list of feeds and anything I read offline is synced back up when I go online. No images or following links, but it looks like FeedDemon’s developer Nick Bradbury is working on that. Let’s hope NetNewsWire developer Brent Simmons is paying attention.
I can edit our website in Dreamweaver since the files are saved locally, but no connection to databases or uploading of course. I can run reports in QuickBooks. I can work in the Adobe Creative Suite applications. I can write documents and edit spreadsheets. This is a big reason I haven’t yet pushed for online collaboration of documents (such as Google Docs & Spreadsheets) in our organization’s workflow. I’m waiting for an economical cross-platform solution that will automatically sync online documents with desktop files, yet still allow for easy collaborative editing of the document in a browser window. If such an animal already exists, I’d love to hear about it.
The biggest weakness is in our constituent database. As a nonprofit organization, we use Salesforce.com as the hub of our relationship with contacts, vendors, organization, etc. The good folks at Salesforce give away 10 seats of the software-as-a-service CRM free to nonprofits. It more than meets our needs, centralizing everything we do and everyone we know in one place without the need for investment in server hardware or custom database development. Given how many gigantic companies have their data in Salesforce, I trust our little ‘ole database with them. I back everything up locally, just in case. But I can’t access and manipulate the data offline easily. There is an offline version of Salesforce, but it only runs on Windows and has other limitations. Big weak point that I know I have to address for our organization.
So what’s your story? As a web worker who relies heavily on technology, where do you know that you are professionally vulnerable if you can’t get on that hotspot or your cable modem is down? Is it something you even worry about?