WordPress have just announced the availability of WordPress Gears:

Gears? It is a browser extension like Flash or QuickTime/Media Player. However Gears works with the browser to enhance web based applications. It can create local database and file storage, and run JavaScript in the background to update them without slowing down the browser.

Gears has been in the making for over a year and is well known among the web developers. Currently it supports Firefox versions 2 & 3 and Internet Explorer versions 6 & 7. Safari 3 support is coming soon.

On WordPress.com it is used to store all images and other web page components from the admin area to the user’s PC, speeding up access and reducing unnecessary web traffic.

The speed increase is most noticeable when Internet is slow or on high latency and makes everybody’s blogging experience more enjoyable.

We’re now starting to see the development of a numbers of tools which will reduce the bandwidth requirements for using a networked application and/or allow Web-based applications to be usable offline (e.g. Google Gears).

I’m pleased with the variety of developments which are taking place behind the scenes on the WordPress.com Web site which hosts this blog.  In January 2008, for example, there was an announcement on the WordPress blog that an interface which provides access statistics for syndicated accesses to blog posts had been relaunched and a week later there was an announcement of enhancements to the interface to the Akismet spam filter. Indeed if you look at the WordPress.com blog archive for 2008 you will see a whole host of developments which have been made, many to the hosted blog environment.

This is an example of the ‘always beta’ nature of many Web 2.0 services. But not everybody likes this. Stuart Smith, for example, has commented recently on my blog that:

Part of the problem is the eternal beta syndrome that dominates the world of web apps. It means nothing is ever finished or entirely taken responsibility for.

It’s true that an ‘eternal beta’ approach could be used to deploy new developments which have not been adequately tested, to the detriment of the end user. But to me the response to this criticism is to say that ongoing enhancements to services need to be carefully managed and mechanisms are needed to allow users to quickly and easily provide their feedback.  In the case of the WordPress.com blog, the announcement are made on their developments blog, are brought to the attention of blog authors in their administrators interface and they encourage feedback – which they do receive.

When the WordPress open source software is installed locally to provide a blog service, such ongoing developments do not happen. And this, I find, somewhat irritating when I use the JISC PoWR blogwhich is hosted by the JISC on their JISC Involve blog hosting service– the blog software is somewhat dated, and hasn’t benefitted from the developments I’m used to on the UK Web Focus blog.

Perhaps the differences between my perspectives and Stuart’s are based on particular experiences we may have had. On the other hand perhaps this reflects an individual mindset – do you see software development as bringing about improvements, or are developments more likely to be to disrupt well-established working practices?  Or to put it another way, is the glass half full or half empty?  I’m pleased to say that WordPress.com blog is half full :-)  (But WordPress shouldn’t get too complacent – if the quality deteriorates, I can always take my custom elsewhere).