Web Apps to the Rescue?

by Jason Spingarn-Koff

Assignment 2 for the Knight-Mozzilla Learning Lab

Last week’s lectures by Christian Heilmann and John Resig sparked a bit of a revelation about my project CrowdCam: I now realize that CrowdCam might reach a much larger audience if it could be implemented in HTML5JQuery, and CSS3 rather than as an iPhone app.  This could help solve a major piece of my new problem statement: “how to find people anywhere in the world, fast?”

Until now, my ideal scenario was that millions of people would rush to download a CrowdCam app for iPhone, Android etc.  The app would include a rich feature set and tight integration with the phones’ camera, GPS, and other hardware.  The app could chime with alerts, while using other apps or asleep in a pocket.  It would do everything.  But in the real world, it’s pretty hard to get millions of people to install an app and keep it updated over the years — especially if they rarely get pinged with requests for things to film.

But what if there was an easier way to disseminate the platform?  HTML5 and libraries like JQuery may point the way forward.  Dynamic touch interfaces and rich user experiences are no longer confined to iOS.  See the Web app for Financial Times.

Best of all, Web apps require no download or user updates.  So I could theoretically distribute plain old links that would open up a Web app with all the features I need.  Today, slick interfaces and geolocation are possible.  Yet there are still some unanswered questions, in particular: can I tap into (or hijack) the phone’s camera and live stream from a browser?  That’s key for my system to work.   But if I can cobble that together, and creatively use other existing and simple technologies (text messages instead of push alerts?), I may be able to replicate most of the iOS app feature set in a package that is cross-platform, open source, and accessible with a single click of a URL.  Wow.

After our Wednesday lecture, I was able to chat with one of Mozilla’s technology gurus, and he has given me a glimmer of hope that is may all be possible… the question is when, and what to build until that day arrives.