The toy with buzz this week is Webaroo, a new service that provides Web users with the ability to download content from the Web automatically that can be synced with memory cards used in mobile devices via a PC or directly to a Windows-enabled mobile device. Kind of dull-sounding on the surface, but what's interesting is the packaging. Content comes down from Webaroo in convenient "web packs", files that have stripped out content from various sites and optimized it for display in mobile devices. These web packs are not small: the typical web pack is about 256MB of data, enough to fit into most memory sticks or thumb drives these days but hardly a smidgen of stuff. It's essentially creating mini-webs of content that can support people on the go in a variety of contexts. Web pack titles thus far include major cities (night life, tourist attractions, local news), world news, and world soccer/football sports reports. An included browser-based search utility makes it relatively easy to locate content on a specific topic. Pages appear in roughly the same form that they appeared on the Web, including ads and page layouts. Clicking on links will bring you to cached pages if available or to the option to go to the Web if connectivity is available.
The product itself is fairly rudimentary though it has the ability to define custom web packs: what you get it what you get. In some ways it's not much different in net result on a PC from the caching function on a browser used in combination with a local search utility such as Google desktop. But it's a hint of the scale of convenient content that can be made available to users in today's high-capacity devices fed by broadband network connections to the Web. With gigabytes of storage available in many of these devices users have the ability to aggregate mini-Webs of content that can travel with them with or without a network connection. In essence these mini-Webs are publications in and of themselves, synced up as needed with fresh content. This adds a whole new layer to what could be accomplished in the publishing industry to make content available to their users in a delivered service - which could include premium levels of content as well. Syncing content on wireless connections into local caches is one of the huge missed opportunities in publishing today, one which is likely to gain more traction as ad-supported wireless connections begin to take off. In the meantime, ponder what the future might bring by downloading this simple utility.
UPDATE: Webaroo came in handy on a tedious flight back home yesterday, allowing a little content into my life that would otherwise be unavailable in the air. I have tried a few sites and search engine queries for my custom "web packs": results are fair. Some pages outside of Webaroo's preprocessed universe can get rather messy as they get packed for efficient mobile use. But overall it's a handy tool that I look forward to testing further.