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Technology

This Text Message Web Browser Is Less Crazy Than It Sounds

The Cosmos Browser is a smart idea for the dumb-phone world.

[Photo: Flickr user Arkangel]

Here's something you probably didn't even think to wish for, because the concept is so insane: A way to surf the web using SMS text messages. That's the idea behind Cosmos Browser, a project posted to GitHub a few days ago. But if it comes to fruition, this idea could have far-reaching implications.

If the experience is functional enough, you could imagine this workaround being used to access the Internet in parts of the world where Wi-Fi and 4G mobile broadband aren't readily available.

Even if it doesn't make a dent in the digital divide, you have to admit: This is a pretty impressive feat.

The Cosmos Browser is an Android web browser that uses SMS text messages to retrieve web content and then display it to the user in a stripped-down layout. On the backend, Cosmos will use Node.js to compress and re-encode the page's content into a format than can be transferred over SMS.

"We want this to be a way for people to get information when they're in dire need of it," says Rohith Varanasi, a developer who contributed much of the backend code for Cosmos.

The project's Github page explains how the process works:

After a person inputs a url, our app texts our Twilio number which forwards the URL as a POST request to our Node.JS backend. The backend takes the url, gets the HTML source of the website, minifies it, gets rid of the css, Javascript, and images, GZIP compresses it, encodes it in Base64, and sends the data as a series of SMS's. The phone receives this stream at a rate of 3 messages per second, orders them, decompresses them, and displays the content.

Click to expand

In other words, the browser is requesting URLs, grabbing and simplifying the source code, and then unpacking the results and displaying them, all via SMS (with a little help from Twilio and Node.js). It's not going to be as fast or as beautifully rendered as web pages on Safari or Chrome—picture your desktop browser running with the CSS and JavaScript turned off—but it will allow people to look up information without a proper connection.

Right now, pages on Cosmos will essentially be text-only documents with some light formatting, but Varanasi says they're working on including images.

Cosmos is expected to launch before the end of the September.

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