Unbookmarking the Future of Browsing

I am needy:

  • I want to remember URLs. Bookmarking is too manual and akin to throwing URLs in the sarlacc pit. The user-interface pieces around bookmarking have not changed in a decade. No, the awesomebar is not a good tool for this. I don’t even come close to being able to recall what I want the awesomebar to recall. I need to be ambiently prompted in a way that is visual and has context.
  • I need to be able to focus on a given task, project or idea. A single sea of tabs doesn’t help at all. I want blinders. I want an environment. Task immersion.
  • I need to be able to categorize URLs into groups, such that the whole group is easily accessible. Trees and menus can go to hell, along with the RSI, eye-strain and visual boredom they provide.
  • I need to be able to switch contexts quickly and easily. Eg: From bug triage to perf to dashboards to music, etc.
  • I don’t want to leave the browser. Windows are super heavyweight feeling and come along with all kinds of operating system baggage: visual, interaction, performance, etc.

I realized recently that a pattern had emerged in my browser usage that meets a bunch of these needs:

  • I use Firefox’s Panorama feature to manage groups of tabs. I have groups for a bunch of work areas, and for Food, Music, Design, JavaScript, Health, and many more. This provides task-specific browser contexts, as well as keyboard shortcuts for switching contexts with ease.
  • I set up Firefox to restore my session every time it starts. This way my groups persist, and all the URLs in each group are loaded with their cookies and other session data ready to go when I need them.
  • I have “Don’t load tabs until selected” checked, so that Firefox does all this with as little memory as possible – the web pages in all the tabs in all the groups aren’t loaded until I actually use them.
  • I restart the browser a couple of times per day to keep memory use slim, which in turn keeps the browser responsive. Restarting is super fast and responsive because I have “Don’t load tabs until selected” (see previous point).

This is the happiest I’ve been with any browser in years. However, there are still a bunch of pain points. I want SO much more.

  • I want to tag URLs without bookmarking them. The bookmark concept just gets in the way. It’s an unnecessary unit of psychological weight. It’s a vestigial metaphor of days gone by.
  • I want to open a tab group by typing the name of the group in the URL bar.
  • I want to add URLs to multiple groups easily, similar to tagging. I’d like to do it via the keyboard.
  • I want to send the current tab to a different group (or groups) using only the keyboard.
  • I want app tabs that are specific to a given group, and some that are global.
  • I want to switch quickly from an app tab back to the last non-app tab I was at. Or be able to peek quickly at an app tab without losing my context in the current set of tabs.
  • I want to switch quickly back to the last tab I was at. (Eg: When I open a new tab, and get sent to the end of the current set of tabs). OR be able to have new tabs open immediately to the right of the current tab, with linked parentage.
  • I’m tired of sites being browsers inside a browser. And I don’t want “site-specific” browsers – I want a “me-specific” browser, for local or dynamic content.
  • Firefox creates the <tab> elements for hidden tabs when restoring the session. It would re/start even faster and use even less memory if the XUL elements for hidden tabs were not created until the group itself was opened.
  • As I work, memory use increases and responsiveness decreases, since I keep visiting more and more tabs. If I haven’t visited a tab in a while, Firefox should unload it. If I haven’t visited a group in a while, Firefox should completely unload the whole group, session content *and* XUL elements.
  • A downside of the “Don’t load tabs until selected” option is that tab content is not ready and waiting when you select the tab. The web content has to load and the session data for the tab must be restored. Firefox should pre-load tabs that are adjacent to the active tab. This feature, combined with the dormant-izing of tabs described above would result in a decent balance of instant-gratification availability and responsiveness and resource frugality.

One idea I had was a merging of tagging and groups: The groups in Panorama would be comprised of the set of tags that exist. This would result in nice integration bits like search-by-tag in the awesomebar being equivalent to search-in-group. It also might mean that we’ll need to make Panorama “bigger” – maybe allow it to be zoomed, or make it an infinite canvas.

An idea for navigating dynamic content is to merge feeds and groups. Imagine you have a BBC group, which has the BBC feed as it’s source. The set of “tabs” in that group are the items in the feed. If you open the group, all the URLs in the feed are loaded into tabs (but not *really* loaded if you restore-on-demand).

Anyways, it’s interesting to think about how to prototype some of these ideas in an add-on or a collection of them. I’m sure some of the items above already exist as add-ons.

I realize that I’m not a “typical user”. However, after almost 6 years of browser-making, I’m pretty damn sure that there is no such person. I do not believe that the one-size-fits-all browser is the future. When adding a feature or fixing a bug, we shouldn’t have to choose between grandma and the geeks. In order to stay relevant in a highly-personalized future, we should strive to ensure that Firefox is pliable enough that we who make it are not restricted by it, and more importantly we must ensure that add-on developers are free to mash-up and remix and experiment the f*ck out of it.


31 Comments on “Unbookmarking the Future of Browsing”

  1. Simon says:

    I want to tag URLs without bookmarking them. The bookmark concept just gets in the way.

    How so? Double-click on the star in the url bar, enter tags, and click Done. Apart from a little text in the dialog box, the bookmark concept is almost invisible. Such bookmarks are created as ‘unsorted’, so they don’t appear in the menus or toolbar or anything like that…

  2. Mardeg says:

    Can you please add the already filed bug links to the list of things you want. For instance
    “If I haven’t visited a tab in a while, Firefox should unload it” is https://bugzilla.mozilla.org/show_bug.cgi?id=675539

  3. I strongly agree with just about everything you’ve said. (some of which I didn’t even realize I wanted until you said it)

    The two exceptions are:

    1. I wouldn’t want to lose bookmarking altogether. It’s a very lightweight way to mark something as visited permanently I use bookmarking as the least significant of my methods to keep track of sites I’ve visited before so I can, hopefully, eventually have a way to filter through what I’ve already seen. (Panorama for active uses, del.icio.us for “likely to re-want”, StumbleUpon for “possibly re-want”, and a mix of Firefox bookmarks and the Scrapbook extension for “possibly eventually re-want”)

    2. Pre-loading adjacent tabs would only harm my workflow… though, once Firefox stable has better profiling tools, maybe I can find the leaky extension and it would become something that I don’t really care about one way or the other.

  4. Jorpho says:

    I also agree with a lot of what has been said. Especially the sarlacc pit.

    Why on Earth is Firefox the only browser that can be configured not to try to reload a hundred tabs from the last session all at once? This should have been fixed ages ago.

    • fabpicca says:

      Strongly agree with the idea that browsers have been enhanched in performance but not in browsing experience.

      I’m a Chrome user, it’a definitively the browser I mostly love for the uncluttered UI.
      But speaking about bookmarking, there’s still a long way to go. Just some enhancements I’d really be glad of:

      – contextual bookmarking/history (present me with a list of bookmarked/already seen pages)
      – smart annotations on pages, along with tagging abilities, to create a kind of personal map of the internet
      – social integration (you know you have to): so maybe some indicators saying “hey your friend/similar-interests-twitter-mate ” saw this about the argument you are currently browsing.

      Maybe most of the features can be achieved with plugins or extensions or whatsoever. But a more integrated experience is definitively missing.

      • Have you considered using about:config and Stylish to rework Firefox’s UI to be more like Chrome’s?

        My userstyles for trimming things down are at http://userstyles.org/users/17680 if you want to take a look.

        You might also want the Download Statusbar, HistoryBlock, RSS Icon, and Tab Wheel Scroll extensions if you decide to give it a try.

      • Erunno says:

        @Stephan Sokolow

        1) Why should a user go through the pain of revamping the interface when there’s an alternative browser which already has the desired interface and which gets actively improved by the developers themselves? You’re suggesting that this responsibility is passed on to the user. Opera users have also been trying this for the past decade and I daresay that this is one of the reasons Opera failed to grab a sizable market share. People really enjoy good defaults.

        2) Often enough people don’t even know why one interface works and another doesn’t because they lack the formal education in UX design to recognize the small details which make on interface superior than the other.

        3) There’s also the problem that some things cannot be done by extensions currently (case in point: Chrome’s find-in-page implementation).

        On topic:

        1) Panorama still hasn’t solved the tab groups/windows interaction. Right now each window has its own set of tab groups and if you accidentally close the wrong window and don’t realize it immediately you’ll suffer an immense data loss (depending on the number of open tabs/tab groups).

        2) Introducing full text search would go a long way to make bookmarks unnecessary combined with some likelihood measurement instead of returning pages strictly chronologically. Unfortunately sometimes neither the title nor the url contain the necessary keywords to return to a certain page but the text on the page does. It would also make tagging superfluous to a certain extent. Safari has a very nice interface for rummaging through the history (albeit very disk space heavy due to taking screenshots of visited sites).

        3) Some kind of auto-grouping feature would be neat but there’s a ton of problems to be solved on the interface/interaction side as far as I can see. Automatically grouping tabs would be a neat solution but doing this algorithmically in a reliable way looks like a huge engineering and scientific task. A poor man’s solution would be to allow to define rules under which conditions a tab goes to which group and have a button which triggers this sorting of tabs. Evidently this is a feature which would be used by a minority only.

      • 1. If you’re truly happy with Chrome, you’re welcome to use it. I just wanted to suggest an option that’s usable today for combining a minimalistic, Chrome-like UI with the more powerful extension API and “users over all” privacy philosophy that Firefox offers. (For example, you simply can’t write extensions like Automatic Save Folder, NoScript, User Agent Switcher, and HTTPS Everywhere for Chrome and I certainly don’t trust Chrome Sync the way I trust Firefox Sync.)

        However, I do really agree that Firefox needs to bite the bullet and copy more things like the find-in-page UI from Chrome. (Specifically, the “highlight all by default” and “show results as marks on the scrollbar” aspects. The appearance could be argued to be a stylistic thing and Chrome’s refusal to support triggering a search with the / is actually inferior.)

        Another thing I wish Firefox would copy is Chrome’s OpenSearch integration. As is, it’s got two independent, incomplete search integrations.

        (“quicksearch bookmarks” have been around since Mozilla Suite but don’t integrate with OpenSearch. The search box integrates with OpenSearch, but doesn’t show up in the awesomebar results when keyword searching is used. Neither automatically slurps up OpenSearch definitions from sites as you wander them.)

        Of course, AwesomeBar is far superior to Chrome’s Omnibar when it comes to responsiveness and relevance of in-history and in-bookmarks search results.

        2. I have no argument. Most people don’t have the requisite UI/UX skills. If I had a month to figure out, with any degree of confidence, the proper place and way to say these things in the Mozilla project, I’d be trying to convince people who might actually do something about it. (Sadly, I can’t spare a month to figure out how to make a good first impression and who to talk to.)

        As for your on-topic comments:

        1. The fact that panorama is per-window is a known issue. I remember seeing a Planet Mozilla post a few months ago which explained that the intent was to fix that in concert with things like making it possible to drag tabs between windows without restarting their Flash players. Apparently it’s a side-effect of some architectural shortcoming left over from the very early days of Mozilla.

        2. I agree on the full-text search point as long as, in the common case, it doesn’t make my AwesomeBar results less relevant. That’s actually part of why I use the Scrapbook extension so heavily. I use it to, essentially, archive and index a copy of practically every page I read but using a separate search UI.

      • Erunno says:

        “Chrome’s refusal to support triggering a search with the / is actually inferior.”

        AFAIK this will be removed in one of Firefox’ future versions due to interference with key bindings of web apps.

        “Of course, AwesomeBar is far superior to Chrome’s Omnibar when it comes to responsiveness and relevance of in-history and in-bookmarks search results.”

        The AwesomeBar is a killer feature which Mozilla can be immensely proud of (it made me switch back to Firefox after using Opera for most of the Fx2 period) though I disagree with the responsiveness part (the Omnibar *never* blocks, the Awesomebar does but rarely). I was under the impression that there was lot of resistance when the AB was first introduced. I guess the lesson is to stick with a design you are convinced of and hope that people will overcome their inertia to change.

      • Ugh. Let’s hope that the change can be reverted with an about:config tweak like the one I used to make Alt the AccessKey modifier. (I never used Alt+Menu combos anyway, but I always find myself using de facto standard access keys like Access+F to jump to the search site’s box… and a three-key chord like Alt+Shift+F is just too ungainly for frequent use.)

        It’s already bad enough that I need extensions just to enable scroll-wheel tab switching (like in every other browser and native application) and to put the RSS icon back inside the address bar where page-scoped, conditionally-present buttons belong.

        As for the Omnibar, it may never block, but I shouldn’t have to wait what can sometimes be as much as 5 seconds (without any indication that things are still happening) after I stop typing for the drop-down to be updated with the results I care about.

        It’s also shameful that you can type “foo”, see “www.foobar.com” in your results, and then watch it vanish before you can choose it because, somehow, it was actually only a relevant result for “fo” or “f”… even if you start with “www.”.

        If they can’t figure out how to fix those usability issues with its non-blocking implementation, I’d RATHER it block.

        As for opposition to the AwesomeBar, I remember that but I never understood what people were complaining about.

  5. supster says:

    Moving bookmarks into sessions seems like a bad idea for me, say you have 1000 bookmarks and want to recreate your sessions world, that is one heavy session. And why would I want to have all urls ive ever tagged / bookmarked opened (or hidden somewhere without discoverability) ? There would also need to be a straight forward export / import feature so I can take all my saved data to another install or browser.

    • I think the idea was to keep the user experience of his Panorama setup but rewrite it based on the Places database. I know that’s what I want.

      (The only reason I trust Panorama enough to use it the same way he does is that I have rdiff-backup and the Session Manager extensions acting as safety nets)

  6. Reuben says:

    I was about to post on Google+ about turning Panorama into an infinite canvas when I saw this.
    I never used bookmarks. I have an exceedingly good memory for things like long numbers, URLs and page titles, so the Awesome Bar is the perfect widget for navigating history; I rarely have to use the History window itself.
    Integrating bookmarking/tagging with Panorama would be really neat – it’s the only kind of tagging I do now with tabs.

    • My good memory is primarily for page titles and URLs rather than long numbers but, otherwise, I’m pretty much the same.

      Personally, I think the AwesomeBar should be the first place you turn and the history UI should be re-envisioned as a sort of “advanced search” for history, allowing you to dynamically drill down using filters, sorting, and “search within results”. (Sort of like what https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/prospector-recall-monkey/ could have been if it weren’t so minimal)

      As is, I use the history UI maybe once every 6 to 18 months.

  7. dria says:

    “I want app tabs that are specific to a given group, and some that are global.” Amen. I’ve been griping randomly about this since we first introduced app tabs. I keep being told that I am not really the audience here, wot being an insane poweruser who more or less lives in my browser all day, every day :/

  8. Guest says:

    >I want to switch quickly back to the last tab I was at. (Eg: When I open a new tab, and get sent to the end of the current set of tabs). OR be able to have new tabs open immediately to the right of the current tab, with linked parentage.

    I use Tree Style Tab + Back to Owner Tab + Tab Mix Plus, and can do all that.

  9. Guest says:

    >3) Some kind of auto-grouping feature would be neat but there’s a ton of problems to be solved on the interface/interaction side as far as I can see. Automatically grouping tabs would be a neat solution but doing this algorithmically in a reliable way looks like a huge engineering and scientific task. A poor man’s solution would be to allow to define rules under which conditions a tab goes to which group and have a button which triggers this sorting of tabs. Evidently this is a feature which would be used by a minority only.

    Again, Tree Style Tab does grouping (although a defferent one) and I really like it.

  10. Dan Cardin says:

    the biggest thing i saw there was being able to automatically switch to groups from the awesomebar. The somewhat sluggishness of panorama and the largeness of moving back and forth between it and my tabs is annoying and distracting. Coupled with that, a way to select a bunch of tabs at once from my tab bar and send them to a named group, would be the best way to have me actually get good use out of panorama.

  11. Boris says:

    Your post is like reading from my mind 🙂

    You need to integrate bookmarks and tabs – they should be the same thing and they should be automatically loaded and unloaded based on its usage history.

    It is not complicated to make algorithm that loads/unloads tabs based on my last visit/ visit frequency.

    Also we need tab multiselect. I need a way to hold ctrl, select 5 tabs from tab bar and somehow create group out of it.

    • Erunno says:

      “It is not complicated to make algorithm that loads/unloads tabs based on my last visit/ visit frequency.”

      Actually, it *is* quite complicated once you get into the “devil is in the details” stage as outlined in [1] where some Mozilla developers are trying to come up with a framework to automatically hibernate tabs without causing unexpected behavior.

      “Also we need tab multiselect.”

      The work on this feature is tracked in [2] but unfortunately it seems to have slipped off everybody’s radar or has been put on the backburner in favor of more pressing issues.

      [1] https://bugzilla.mozilla.org/show_bug.cgi?id=675539
      [2] https://bugzilla.mozilla.org/show_bug.cgi?id=566510

  12. Boris says:

    Also I have not found good way to use facebook.

    Gmail is always 1 tab and i keep it as apptab and that is perfect.
    But for facebook I open multiple tabs, and I check it all the time.

    I am not sure what would be solution to that problem…
    maybe tabgroup fixed to facebook domain ?
    When I open something form facebook.com domain it automaticaly goes to that group and allows me to very quickly enter that group and then leave to a group that was open before ?

  13. David Regev says:

    Boris makes a great point: the distinction between tabs and bookmarks in not necessary. Bookmarks are just tabs that aren’t open; but the distinction between “open” and “closed” is largely arbitrary and is more of the underlying implementation leaking through than anything real people really care about. Ideally, Panorama would house all our “bookmarks” all together. This would have the side-effect of bookmarking and tab/page-management using the same mental model, and more people would learn how to “bookmark”. For this to work well, though, Panorama would have to be improved greatly:

    • Tab-management is now modal: one interface for intra–tab-group browsing (the tab bar) and one interface for inter–tab-group browsing (Panorama). There should be only one interface (ideally, a much more usable Panorama).
    • You should be able to select multiple pages easily within Panorama, allowing you to move them around as you wish quickly.
    • Instead of there being just one Panorama view, it should be a true ZUI, zoomable to any arbitrary level. (This is the same as your infinite canvas comment.) This would also decrease the pain of switching between tab groups: instead of having to zoom all the way out just to switch to another tab, all you’d have to do is zoom out slightly and zoom back in on a nearby tab. Tabs you’re not using currently you would place farther away, so only those would require a longer zoom-in/out operation. On top of that, since you could place pages at any zoom level, you can make more important pages larger (or even way larger) than less important ones. This allows for some beautiful organization, though it would not be necessary (for people who aren’t like us).
    • I’d love to see this pseudo-bookmarking do away with folders altogether and just use tags. I’m not sure exactly how this would be exposed in Panorama. One possible use for this is having the same page appear in different area in the interface, under different groups/tags. This “cloning” ability could also allow me, for example, to place a small Gmail page next to certain groups in order to check e-mail quickly.

    There’s a lot to think about once you decide to do away with classical bookmarking and use a more humane interface. I’m glad you brought this up, and I hope some progress will be made in this area.

  14. AV says:

    The best would be bookmark that behave visually more like panorama, but not just panorama. In bookmarks I have hundreds of links, in different folder, like an archive of useful things I found in the web that I might need in the future. It doesn’t play well with the concept of tabs, even frozen/unloaded.

  15. If you use the Firefox Nightly channel, you restart every day by default as updates are installed anyway 🙂

  16. skierpage says:

    Food for thought… and I’m stuffed!

    FWIW when bookmarking I add comments to the Name to help me find it later and file it in a “list of stuff” folder or a “project” folder; I occasionally tag it, often delete the useless default Description, and occasionally add something to it. It seems Panorama only lets me name a tab group, no tag or description, so I never got into it.

    I’m curious how you browser experts annotate your projects. I assume when you “focus on a given task, project or idea” you need to make notes about a set of tabs/bookmarks, e.g. “[1] has good info, not updated since 2010. [2] demo doesn’t work in SeaMonkey, note its CSS box styling, etc.” I often start this as a Notes.txt then realize I want the links to work so switch it to Notes.html, and sometimes even transfer it into a local Wiki (TiddlyWiki in an app tab) but it’s a hassle to separately copy & paste each page’s URL then title in, and now I have to manage the URL of my notes in the filesystem as well as in Places, and it’s unaware of tabs/bookmarks. Can anyone recommend a good Mozilla add-on for this sort of note taking? Maybe *Panorama-Plus* could let me write notes around the tabs in a group (and then export/publish it to the world as a standalone HTML page)! Thanks for any suggestions

  17. angryuser says:

    – quote – I realize that I’m not a “typical user”. -unquote-

    No you aren’t. If I remember correctly, you were the driving force between one of the most unnecessary and idiotic changes in whole over-15-year Firefox history, the (in)famous status bar removal. You took away our Golfs that worked perfectly for years and gave us some brand-new Toyotas in return but with issues every 5 days. And all creedenced with “everything will be more than ever” promises, which you did NOT keep at all. (And we knew it from the beginning.)

    • Stephan Sokolow says:

      Depends who you ask. As a user, I consider it one of the most NECESSARY changes in the history of Firefox.

      I was sick and tired of having to rely on an extension just to customize one of the more significant parts of my browser chrome when there was a perfectly good UI already implemented. Better a few breakages for a short while rather than requiring an extension just to customize the stupid thing seemingly forever.

      (Stuff in the status bar broke because the old status bar API wasn’t really much of an API, so it was essentially impossible to eliminate breakage when fixing it.)

      Now if only they could break the context menu for a few weeks so we could get a way to edit that without reading through extension source code to find the XUL IDs to apply “display: none” to.

    • Which promises? I’m pretty sure it shipped with all the core requirements addressed.

  18. Moises says:

    When I originally commented I clicked the “Notify me when new comments are added” checkbox and now each time a comment is added I get several emails with the same comment.
    Is there any way you can remove people from that service?


  19. dan says:

    Doesn’t solve your problems but since you’re talking about unbookmarking, you definitely want to “unbookmark” the pages you like when browsing the web incognito, at unbookmark.com

  20. This information is worth everyone’s attention. When can I find out

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