A number of folks wrote in regard to my article about personal Web publishing in TidBITS-316, but Scott Dickson <email@example.com> and John Kawakami <firstname.lastname@example.org> offered a more realistic and generally better solution to some of the problems I outlined: a Web folder synchronization utility.
Most people use Internet through a local Internet provider (or even one of the commercial services like AOL and CompuServe) have access to some space on that provider's Web server. A few people failed to see why using this Web space didn't meet the qualifications of my personal Web publishing software, but my feeling is that uploading via FTP and maintaining a set of files on what's usually a Unix machine is way too hard. I get quite a bit of mail from people who can't figure out how to upload using Anarchie 1.5, where it's merely a matter of drag & drop (Anarchie 1.6 added a Put item to bring uploading more obviously into the interface).
Imagine, then, a utility that simply synchronizes files between an FTP-accessible directory on a Web server and a specific folder on a Mac. I use the term "synchronize" because the utility should delete files on the host if they're deleted from the Web folder. Synchronization has the added advantage of making it easy for users to stay under a disk space limit enforced by the provider, since you can easily see how much space is used by a folder (or the utility could warn you if you went over a user-defined value).
Use of this Web synchronization folder shouldn't be modal; you should be able to work with the files all you like when you're offline, and only once you go online should the software kick in and perform the synchronization. In an ideal world, the utility could automatically translation of text to HTML, PICT to GIF or JPEG, or that sort of thing, but such features aren't necessary and could certainly be added later.
If you think about it a little farther, though, this Web synchronization utility could help not just individuals for whom dealing with FTP is a stretch, but anyone who maintains a Web site on a Macintosh. Our Web server at www.tidbits.com is only accessible via FTP now that the machine isn't on our network, and keeping all the files up to date with the local version we work with has become a pain, especially since Tonya, Geoff, and I can all make changes. It's not hard to remember what to upload if you change one or two files, but in a serious session of HTML authoring, you might change ten or twenty files. It would be great if you could make all those changes, connect to the Internet, and have the Web synchronization software automatically merge in your changed files, at the same time downloading all the files that others have changed.
This functionality isn't entirely a new idea - the Aretha release of Frontier included AutoWeb, a utility for creating Web sites from specially named and formatted text files. Along with AutoWeb came an Upload script that used Anarchie to upload all the files in a special Upload folder to your Web site.
In the AppleScript world, a.h.s boy <email@example.com> has written a script called WebLoader that does much the same thing.
These scripts are half the battle. There have also been a number of file synchronization utilities for PowerBooks that could perhaps be modified to work over the Internet. We obviously have the technology available to accomplish this task. If it's only a matter of scripting in AppleScript or Frontier, someone could go the next step and make a useful and successful Web utility. I could imagine a WebSync control panel or background application that watches the designated Web folder, controls disk space warnings, and interacts with Anarchie, Fetch, or Allegiant's Marionet to synchronize files. Such a utility could serve both the personal Web publishing market and the many people out there who build and maintain Web sites using the Mac.