Friday, 29 June 2012

Tab synchronisation could be better

I've been interested for a while in synchronising my open browser windows between computers, though I realise that has its problems. For instance, secure sites like online banking shouldn't be synchronised automatically, and probably can't be anyway. I've been waiting for Chrome to properly offer tab sync since I heard it was in beta testing ages ago. Recently I found it in the "other devices" feature, but it's far from seamless.

I have recently started at the beginning of Kris Straub's webcomic Starslip, which means I have about seven years of backlog to read and no way to integrate that with Google Reader, where I would normally read my webcomics. So I keep the tab open at home and, when I went on a break at work, I can open up a new tab and pull my current location from home to keep reading. Then I can leave that tab open at work, go home and grab it there to carry on. As long as one of them stays open all the time, I can pick it up anywhere and keep reading. It works, and it's pretty easy, but it does have its problems. For example, if I also use my phone to read that same backlog of comics, I now have three locations with the same website open. How do I know which one is most recent? Not by the time of last synchronisation, because that could be for any open tab on the device. If I want to be sure I'm getting the right one, I just have to open all of them, compare them to each other and close all but the most recent one. Then repeat that any time I change devices. Or remember which device had the most recent bookmark.

And that's the rub. Manual actions and manual comparisons between the dates on tabs defeats the purpose, for me, of synchronisation in the first place. A slightly better design would be to mark an open tab as synchronised when it is opened by this feature, then at regular intervals Chrome could check with the servers to see whether any updates have happened on other copies of that tab. If so, pop up a little information bar to say "This tab has been updated on another machine. Sync here now?" Then the most recent changes would be at least semi-automatic and easier to keep up with.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - It is a good and useful feature as it is, though.
PPS - There are just some ways it could be smoother.

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