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The trouble with web browsers is...


...that they only really work well in a perfect world. We don't live in a perfect world.

I've just responded to a post by John Johnson at Sandaig Primary School, where he discusses the length of time it takes kids for to post to a weblog. You can read my thoughts there, so I shan't repeat them, apart from what I feel is mostly a software issue rather than a human one.

John comments that many of the blog articles that his pupils create, 'fall by the wayside' and don't get completed. We can all empathise with that - it happens often in schools. The issue in the case of blogging is that there are few online tools that allows the user to save their work as draft, yet so many software tools on our computers do. We are all accustomed to being able to do that - except here in a web browser window.

There are some tools that allow blog articles to be saved as draft. Plone, Drupal to name a few - and there are others, but it relies on the Content Management Software (CMS) to have a function to store an article as draft. This is ok-ish, but not a complete solution. Let me explain.

Have you ever had a situation where your web browser has crashed or quit unexpectedly whilst writing within a textbox or completing a long (or short!) web form? Have you ever had a web form fail after you have attempted to submit the form? When was the last time you accidentally quit the web browser and subsequently lost all the open browser windows as well? - something of a major fault with tabbed browsing I think.

It seems to me that web browsers need to be better developed to cope with such problems. Why isn't it possible to save the contents of a web browser form as a file? Why is it that forms can be exported into comma / tab separated format and imported to another browser window? Why can't the web browser itself become the WYSIWYG editor for forms and text boxes that support HTML? These developments seem obvious to me, yet, as far as I know, there isn't a browser that manages to achieve these developments - at all.

Often, when issues arise when using technology, it really isn't the fault of the user but the designer / developer / programmer who produced the technology in the first instance. I am sure much of John's issues and that of his pupils' would be overcome by the simple introduction of proper versioning / editing tools in web browser software. Might we see this anytime soon? Maybe it will feature in the next revision of Mac OS X, Leopard - according to Apple there are heaps of new features they have yet to disclose and mention. Maybe Flock or Firefox might get there first?

Browser software can be better... heaps better.


Last term I was teaching a module on new media and we were looking at new media art (which encompasses loads of things!), blogging, web fictions and all sorts of fun things. Each class I had the students (I tried anyway!) leave a comment on the class blog. This was a bit of an experiment I thought I'd try. Of course, in the last 10 min. of each seminar when everyone was trying to post a comment, everything would crash and all comments would be lost. We ended up commenting in batches but first we'd all draft something in word (I know, it does kind of take away from the instantaneity of the experience) but at least then the students wouldn't lose their info.

What a pity. Is the class blog still active?

Odd that no matter how many times you explain that when software tools let us down, we have to be patient and tolerant of such situations. It wouldn't be so bad if users could attempt to save their work before submitting - but they can't. So even when users are well versed on taking steps to preserve their work, it's just not an option, unless you duck out and into some other application where work can be edited and saved.

Another useful function is simply select all the text (within the textbox) and copy it into the computer's clipboard. If the post fails or the browser quits, simply paste the contents of the comment back into a new form.

If only browsers would save.... (although, looking at Evan's comment below, it looks like Flock might just do it...) but if they could, the following rules could apply...

My three rules for saving work are:

One. Save, save and save again. Always save your work at the point where you'd be upset to lose it and forced to recreate the work (this is harder if the data can never been recreated again, i.e. sampling data, recording data, video, audio, so this just means, save more often.)

My second rule is, save your work just before you ask the computer to do anything that might be just a bit tricky or unknown. Now, I know selecting the print command is a fairly standard and common task, but it has lots of points of failure. If the programmer hasn't considered all the potential issues, the application will crash, quit, burn, and you can say 'goodnight' to that hour-long document you'd just been preparing.

Thirdly, occasionally save your work with a different name to create 'versioning' - means having several copies of the same document but at different stages. If the current file corrupts, simply revert to the last saved revision.

Hey Jonathan,

With Flock, bloggers can save drafts of their blog to the hard drive (regardless of what service they're using, as long as it's Flock-supported). As for tabs, if you attempt to close a browser window with multiple tabs open, you're asked if you really want to close all these tabs. If Flock crashes while you have tabs open, you're given the option to restore your tabs when you restart (Firefox does these last two as well)

Does that address the issues you're bringing up? I'd love to hear more feedback...Flock would love to be a tool for learning.

Evan Hamilton
Flock Community Ambassador
evan at flock dot com

Hello Evan,

Thanks for your comment and advice. I was aware that some browsers cope with crashes and restores the contents of browser windows, but are they able to restore the contents of the textboxes within the windows? I'm not sure... and difficult to test. How do you simulate a browser crash when you need to!?

I've just posted a blog entry 'Poetry e-motion' using Flock's blog editor - I love it - thanks for the heads up on that one. I had used it once before, but not noticed the save ability, maybe that was in a later release - I've just updated to the latest version. I noticed the save command is quite handy as just a simple HTML editing tool actually!

Think I'll give Flock a go and see how I get on.

Now, when will 'Save this web form' become a feature? ;-)

Once again, thanks for your commment. Would be glad of a dialogue here, as I am sure others would be too.

kind regards


Hey Jonathan,

I spoke with the developers and it looks like the saving of textbox content is a feature indeed. And by the way, to simulate a browser crash (on a PC, at least) just open a few tabs, press ctrl+alt+delete, select Flock, and click "End Task". It will ask you if you want to close multiple tabs. Click "End Task" again and it should crash. :)

Glad to hear Flock's working out for you...would love to hear more discussion regarding educational applications of browsers.

-Evan Hamilton
Flock Community Ambassador
evan at flock dot com

And Flock has great Flickr and Delicious tools as well... I wouldn't take any other browser into the shower. I did used to crash a bit... now it seems fine..

I had a really good read on this, very detail,
and very useful information.Thanks.

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