otsukare Thoughts after a day of work

Browser Wish List - Tabs Time Machine

Each time, when asking around you how many tabs are opened in the current desktop browser session, most people will have around per session (July 2020):

  • Release: 4 tabs (median) and 8 tabs (mean)
  • Nightly: 4 tabs (median) and 51 tabs (mean)

(Having a graph of the full distribution would be interesting here.)

It would be interesting to see the exact distribution, because there is a cohort with a very high number of tabs. I have usually in between 300 and 500 tabs opened. And sometimes I'm cleaning up everything. But after an internal discussion at Mozilla, I realized some people had even more toward a couple of thousand tabs opened at once.

While we are not the sheer majority, we are definitely a group of people probably working with browsers intensively and with specific needs that the browsers currently do not address. Also we have to be careful with these stats which are auto-selecting group of people. If there's nothing to manage a high number of tabs, it is then likely that there will not be a lot of people ready to painstakly manage a high number of tabs.

The Why?

I use a lot of tabs.

But if I turn my head to my bookshelf, there are probably around 2000+ books in there. My browser is a bookshelf or library of content and a desk. But one which is currently not very good at organizing my content. I keep tabs opened

  • to access reference content (articles, guidebook, etc)
  • to talk about it later on with someone else or in a blog post
  • to have access to tasks (opening 30 bugs I need to go through this week)

I sometimes open some tabs twice. I close by mistake a tab without realizing and then when I search the content again I can't find it. I can't do a full text search on all open tabs. I can only manage the tabs vertically with an addon (right now I'm using Tabs Center Redux). And if by any bad luck, we are offline and the tabs had not been navigated beforehand, we loose the full content we needed.

So I’m often grumpy at my browser.

What I want: Content Management

Here I will be focusing on my own use case and needs.

What I would love is an “Apple Time Machine”-like for my browser, aka dated archives of my browsing session, with full text search.

  • Search through text keyword all tabs content, not only the title.
  • Possibility to filter search queries with time and uri. "Search this keyword only on wikipedia pages opened less than one week ago"
  • Tag tabs to create collections of content.
  • Archive the same exact uri at different times. Imagine the homepage of the NYTimes at different dates or times and keeping each version locally. (Webarchive is incomplete and online, I want it to work offline).
  • The storage format doesn't need to be the full stack of technologies of the current page. Opera Mini for example is using a format which is compressing the page as a more or less interactive image with limited capabilities.
  • You could add automation with an automatic backup of everything you are browsing, or have the possibility to manually select the pages you want to keep (like when you decide to pin a tab)
  • If the current computer doesn't have enough storage for your needs, an encrypted (paid) service could be provided where you would specify which page you want to be archived away and the ones that you want to keep locally.

Firefox becomes a portable bookshelf and the desk with the piles of papers you are working on.

Browser Innovation

Innovation in browsers don't have to be only about supported technologies, but also about features of the browser itself. I have the feeling that we have dropped the ball on many things, as we race to be transparent with regards to websites and applications. Allowing technologies giving tools to web developers to create cool things is certainly very useful, but making a browser more useful for the immediate users is as much important. I don't want the browser to disappear in this mediating UI, I want it to give me more ways to manage and mitigate my interactions with the Web.

Slightly Related

Open tabs are cognitive spaces by Michail Rybakov.

It is time we stop treating websites as something solitary and alien to us. Web pages that we visit and leave open are artifacts of externalized cognition; keys to thinking and remembering.

The browser of today is a transitory space that brings us into a mental state, not just to a specific website destination. And we should design our browsers for this task.

Otsukare!

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