I woke up like I usually do. I was never an alarm clock type of person, so today felt like a typical day. The dog barked, as usual; the birds were singing outside like normal. I got up and did what I usually do, picked up my phone to check the weather for the day. And something strange happened. I was out of WiFi or mobile data, which is quite unusual, but well, strange things happen.
Actually, my first thought was that I needed a new phone. It happens. They are not indestructible, and these days, heat was punishing everything—from people to electronic devices. But things were about to take an even stranger turn.
I turned the TV on and nothing. Just static, nothing else. “Hm,” I thought, “what the heck is happening here? Did we lose all satellite connections in the world? Are we under some kind of attack?” Then, it hit me “it’s strangely quiet today…”
I opened the window shutters and was shocked. No one was in the streets. And when I say no one, I’m telling you, zero. In a city of more than a million inhabitants. So there I was.
Completely Alone in a Disconnected World
Was this a nightmare? Was this some parallel universe? Was it all together? And why me? Why would I be the only person in the middle of a city where apparently everyone had vanished?
I took a deep breath and started to think about what could I do because the Internet is so essential for getting most of us through the day. It’s part of working, communicating, finding places, and getting food. We depend on it for so many tasks that when we’re offline and it’s not by choice, we’re frustrated. We see ourselves losing time and having to take extra effort for what are normally simple tasks.
This is especially important to me. I’m a UX expert, and I do really care about the experience someone has when using an app. And being offline is many times a forgotten but essential part of a really good user experience.
The truth is offline is not an edge case; it happens regularly. For some people, it’s for long periods of time. Maybe we spent all the data available, or perhaps we have a bad connection. Or perhaps, like me, you just went through what seems to be an apocalypse.
I really think that you need to think about it. And, in the position I was in, I was just hoping that the people who made apps around the world feel the same way. Mainly because I’m no Bear Grylls, and I really needed to do something about my situation.
So I picked up the phone and started to think about where to start.
Feedback and User Control
First I went on social media. Even offline, social media apps do two important things:
- They clearly present the offline status, often with a fun, smart, or cute image, which can go a long way to soften the hit. These messages shouldn’t indicate that an error happened but instead adjust to the new reality that’s available. There is nothing worse, in a stressful situation, than infinite spinners or blank screens.
- They disable the features that can’t be used during this period and guide the user visually on how to use the app in that current state. They are always keeping the situation under control.
This was of utmost importance because it allowed me to understand when I stopped having network access, and what people were talking about. Unfortunately, everything looked too ordinary here, so, I had to explore other opportunities.
Accessing Content While Offline
Next, I decided that I needed to stop trying random stuff and be more systematic. So I sat there and listed what I knew and what would be a good plan for this strange situation.
It’s here that apps that provide access, creation, and edition of content shine. For example, with Evernote, I could access all my notes, read, write and edit, storing all my changes locally and updating everything when back online.
So I decided that I needed to explore the news, keep digging through social media and maybe listen to some music to put me in the zone and relax.
Fortunately, most of my newspaper apps are rich in content and always store the news locally, showing me the last data that was synchronized. So, I finished reading an interesting news piece without the frustration of having to wait to come back online, creating a consistent experience and a sense of security.
All major social media apps do this also. For example, Spotify allows me to hear my playlists offline.
It is important to keep content available offline. If for some reason, you can’t, it’s vital that you do not enable users to start a task they won’t be able to complete, like start filling a form that will not be submitted and which leads to a loss of information. Oh dear, it’s so hard to express how frustrating this is!
Prepare for Offline
So my news feeds made no mention of anything strange, and social media seemed disturbingly normal. It was as if everyone had just disappeared in a single moment. It was time for me to risk leaving my house. Since my city was a ghost city, I decided to pick up my car and go to an entirely different place. Who knows? Maybe it was a localized situation, and the rest of the world was okay.
The thing is, I’m awful with roads and maps, but, lucky me had been on a road trip with a visiting friend last week. Networks are not reliable in most of the countryside, I had downloaded the maps.
It is excellent when applications allow users to prepare for their offline periods. There are great examples out there that are making my life so much more fun and functional.
In this case, with Google maps, I can download maps and use them offline, I cannot express how many times I’ve used this feature when I was traveling in another country and did not have internet. The same with Trip Advisor: you can download entire cities and search for things to do just as if you were online, it just feels so smooth!
I got really pumped, but as soon as I got to my car, I understood that I couldn’t go further. My gas tank was almost empty. It was a lesson learned. A useful checklist for being offline must include a full tank of gas.
Managing Offline and Online
In despair, I decided to try to contact someone. I was feeling lonely and quite scared. The day was almost gone, and I didn’t know what else to do.
I went on Whatsapp and tried to contact a friend. Whatsapp, like most instant messaging apps, is excellent at managing offline:
- They show you the online status of your friends.
- They allow you to send messages even when offline.
- They notified when a message was delivered.
- They notified when a message was read.
You end up with complete understanding of what’s going on during a conversation.
I sent the SOS message to my friend, secretly wishing that something was different this time. Alas, that annoying little clock was there. And it was telling me, yes, you are alone. This is your life now. At this moment, I was just too tired to keep fighting. I went to bed, closed my eyes, and just hoped that this was just the strangest dream ever.
Sweet Dreams Are Made of This?
“DING”! I never thought that the sound of notification would be the best way to wake up in the morning. But today it was. I jumped out of bed, turned on the TV, and ran to the window. Everything, and I mean everything, was completely normal.
I checked my phone, and my message to my friend was nowhere to be found. Just our meaningless recurring chat. Everything was fine; it seemed to have been the strangest dream ever. But I was OK now. I took a deep breath and took the time to appreciate my life. It was a good morning. I was ready for another summer day, and I felt fine.