Re-dreaming Firefox (2): Beyond Bookmarks

June 3, 2015 § 17 Comments

Gerv’s recent post on the Jeeves Test got me thinking of the Firefox of my dreams. So I decided to write down a few ideas on how I would like to experience the web. Today: Beyond Bookmarks. Let me emphasize that the features described in this blog post do not exist.

« Look, here is an interesting website. I want to read that content (or watch that video, or play that game), just not immediately. » So, what am I going to do to remember that I wish to read it later:

  1. Bookmark it?
  2. Save it to disk?
  3. Pocket it?
  4. Remember that I saw it and find it in my history later?
  5. Remember that I saw it and find it in my Awesome Bar later?
  6. Hope that it shows up in the New Tab page?
  7. Open a tab?
  8. Install the Open Web App for that website?
  9. Open a tab and put that tab in a tab group?

Wow, that’s 9 ways of fulfilling the same task. Having so many ways of doing the same thing is not a very good sign, so let’s see if we can find a way to unify a few of these abstractions into something more generic and powerful.

Bookmarking is saving is reading later

What are the differences between Bookmarking and Saving?

  1. Bookmarking keeps a URL, while Saving keeps a snapshot.
  2. Bookmarks can be used only from within the browser, while Saved files can be used only from without.

Merging these two features is actually quite easy. Let’s introduce a new button, the Awesome Bookmarks which will serve as a replacement for both the Bookmark button and Save As.

  • Clicking on the Awesome Bookmarks icon saves both the URL to the internal database and a snapshot to the Downloads directory (also accessible through the Downloads menu).
  • Opening an Awesome Bookmark, whether from the browser or from the OS both lead the user to (by default) the live version of the page, or (if the computer is not connected) to the snapshot.
  • Whenever visiting a page that has an Awesome Bookmark, the Awesome Bookmark icon changes color to offer the user the ability to switch between the live version or the snapshot.
  • The same page can be Awesome Bookmarked several times, offering the ability to switch between several snapshots.

By switching to Awesome Bookmarks, we have merged Saving, Bookmarking and the Read it Later list of Pocket. Actually, since Firefox already offers Sync and Social Sharing, we have just merged all the features of Pocket.

So we have removed collapsed items from our list into one.

Bookmarks are history are tiles

What are the differences between Bookmarks and History?

  1. History is recorded automatically, while Bookmarks need to be recorded manually.
  2. History is eventually forgotten, while Bookmarks are not.
  3. Bookmarks can be put in folders, History cannot.

Let’s keep doing almost that, but without segregating the views. Let us introduce a new view, the Awesome Pages, which will serve as a replacement for both Bookmarks Menu and the History Menu.

This view shows a grid of thumbnails of visited pages, iOS/Android/Firefox OS style.

  • first the pages visited most often during the past few hours (with the option of scrolling for all the pages visited during the past few hours);
  • then the Awesome Bookmarks (because, after all, the user has decided to mark these pages)/Awesome Bookmarks folders (with the option of scrolling for more favourites);
  • then, if the user has opted in for suggestions, a set of Awesome Suggested Tiles (with the option of scrolling for more suggestions);
  • then the pages visited the most often today (with the option of scrolling for the other pages visited today);
  • then the pages visited most often this week (with the option of scrolling for the other pages visited this week);

By default, clicking on an Awesome Bookmark (or history entry, or suggested page, etc.) for a page that is already opened switches to that page. Non-bookmarked pages can be turned into Awesome Bookmarks trivially, by starring them or putting them into folders.

An Awesome Bar at the top of this Awesome Pages lets users quickly search for pages and folders. This is the same Awesome Bar that is already at the top of tabs in today’s Firefox, just with the full-screen Awesome Pages replacing the current drop-down menu.

Oh, and by the way, this Awesome Pages is actually our new New Tab page.

By switching to the Awesome Pages, we have merged:

  • the history menu;
  • the bookmarks menu;
  • the new tab page;
  • the awesome bar.

Bookmarks are tabs are apps

What are the differences between Bookmarks and Tabs?

  1. Clicking on a bookmark opens the page by loading it, while clicking on a tab opens the page by switching to it.

That’s not much of a difference, is it?

So let’s make a few more changes to our UX:

  • Awesome Bookmarks record the state of the page, in the style of Session Restore, so clicking on an Awesome Bookmark actually restores that page, whenever possible, instead of reloading it;
  • The ribbon on top of the browser, which traditionally contains tabs, is actually a simplified display of the Awesome Pages, which shows, by default, the pages most often visited during the past few hours;
  • Whether clicking on a ribbon item switches to a page or restores it is an implementation detail, which depends on whether the browser has decided that unloading a page was a good idea for memory/CPU/battery usage;
  • Replace Panorama with the Awesome Page, without further change.

So, with a little imagination (and, I’ll admit, a little hand-waving), we have merged tabs and bookmarks. Interestingly, we have done that by moving to an Apps-like model, in which whether an application is loaded or not is for the OS to decide, rather than the user.

By the way, what are the differences between Tabs and Open Web Apps?

  1. Apps can be killed by the OS, while Tabs cannot.
  2. Apps are visible to the OS, while Tabs appear in the browser only.

Well, if we decide that Apps are just Bookmarks, since Bookmarks have been made visible to the OS in section 1., and since Bookmarks have just been merged with Tabs which have just been made killable by the browser, we have our Apps model.

We have just removed three more items from our list.

What’s left?

We are down to one higher-level abstraction (the Awesome Bookmark) and one view of it (the Awesome Page). Of course, if this is eventually released, we are certainly going to call both Persona.

This new Firefox is quite different from today’s Firefox. Actually, it looks much more like Firefox OS, which may be a good thing. While I realize that many of the details are handwavy (e.g. how do you open the same page twice simultaneously?), I believe that someone smarter than me can do great things with this preliminary exploration.

I would like to try that Firefox. Would you?

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§ 17 Responses to Re-dreaming Firefox (2): Beyond Bookmarks

  • Simon says:

    Sounds terrible, starting with the idea that bookmarks and tabs are the same thing.

    For me, at least, tabs are the set of things I’m working on right-now – web-apps I have permanently open (Gmail, Facebook, etc), transient pages I’m reading, documentation I’m actively consulting, blogs and forum posts I’m periodically reloading to check for updates, etc.

    In contrast, bookmarks are about storing the URLs of sites which I’m not using right now, but which I use regularly enough that I want to remember the list. Some of them are things I check daily for new content (often using the “open all in tabs” feature), some of them are reference material I often come back to.

    The distinction shows up very clearly in my backup strategy for the two. The bookmark list is *essential* information for me, and I make sure it’s backed up regularly – to dropbox, as well as external drives. But it’s pretty much the only thing in my Firefox profile that I care about – the rest, the history and tab state… it’s something that’s nice to preserve when restarting Firefox, but it’s not something I care about restoring in the event of a more serious failure.

    As for the bit about snapshots and recording page state – that’s kind of nice for preserving tab state between restarts, but it’s totally irrelevant most of the time. If I’m loading a page from a bookmark, I almost always want to see the current content of the page – not what it looked like when I bookmarked it ten years ago. And even with open tabs, it’s common that the first thing I do when I switch to a tab is hit reload to see anything new since I last looked. I don’t care about snapshotting old versions.

    • yoric says:

      Sounds terrible, starting with the idea that bookmarks and tabs are the same thing.

      I realize that this is the hard sell. One of the very interesting ideas of mobile applications is that there is no difference between context-switching and launching an application: mobile applications have unified the two operations behind a single transparent abstraction, which just works, and which seems to satisfy everyone.

      Most Window Managers (including MacOS X) do the same: there is a launcher, with icons, and whether these icons map to applications that are already in memory or to applications that are waiting to be launched is an implementation detail. It took me a little time to get used to that, 10 years ago, but this works nicely.

      I believe that the same would go with tabs and bookmarks.

      [… backup strategy, making use of state and snapshots …]

      Snapshots are very useful for bookmarking news pages, twitter flows, etc. I agree, that’s a rather specialized power-use case, so many users might not need it. The good thing is that, if you don’t need it, you don’t see it.

      As for state, in my mind, it’s more a mechanism for being able to unload tabs transparently, without losing the scroll position, the content of forms, etc. If you don’t need it, well, you can continue clicking “reload” as you already do.

      • Simon says:

        > I believe that the same would go with tabs and bookmarks.

        And I think you’re wrong. Speaking as a user, I see them as totally different things – tabs are all about “right now”, the current state of what I’m working on or otherwise interested in.

        In contrast bookmarks are pretty much the exact opposite – they’re things which I’m *not* interested in “right now”, and which would be unwanted clutter if they weren’t tucked away behind the Bookmarks button on the toolbar – they’re something I only want to deal with when I explicitly look for them.

  • Paul R says:

    Not sure I’m a big fan of this. It did take me several months before I actually got to prefer Australis to the earlier UI, so maybe I just need to use it for a while. But from where I stand right now, I don’t see myself liking it too much.

    As the first poster said, there are different functions for these different ways of “saving” a webpage. All I want with bookmarks are a link, a name, and with Firefox, a keyword that lets me call it up. I don’t need a tile; when Opera force fed tiles onto its users a while back it was a massive transition, and I’m not sure the UI was any better. I have since started using tiles with my new tab page with FF, but only for a few sites I hit all the time. I also would prefer the current page, not a page that was saved to my desktop the day I bookmarked it.

    I’m sorry if this sounds too snarky, but at this point if FF were to make these changes, I’d look for an addon called something like Classic Bookmark Restorer. And even if I did get used to the new way, I can’t imagine that it would be easier to look at tiles instead of text links and titles of bookmarks, like I do now. Instead of fitting 33 bookmarks on my 15.6 inch display on my laptop, I’d be lucky to get 10 tiles. With favicons, bookmarks can allow me to scan for text in a bookmark title, or quickly locate a favicon of a site I recognize–I’m not sure tiles would be an improvement on this.

    Perhaps another angle on this would be to question the benefit to this. I organize bookmarks, b/c that is where I go for a site I know I’ve bookmarked. If I’m not sure, or if I know I’ve visited it recently, I can just type in something in the URL bar and it will most likely show up. If not, then I can dig into my history organized by date, or simply search if I don’t recall specifically when. But I’d rather not have one database mix my history and my bookmarks. This would be rather cumbersome, and give me too many tiles to look through, when browsing my bookmarks.

    So let me end with this: talk me into your new way. How about a followup blogpost showing us how useful this might be? As I started out my comment, I might end up liking it after a few months, but I’m not convinced I will, that’s all.

    And thanks for reimaging a new UI for Firefox. I enjoyed reading what it might look like in a few years.

    • yoric says:

      I’m sorry if this sounds too snarky, but at this point if FF were to make these changes, I’d look for an addon called something like Classic Bookmark Restorer.

      I can absolutely understand this, as Awesome Bookmarks would dramatically change the UX. Hey, I’m not even sure we could call the browser Firefox anymore, given the number of changes. Or, to put things the other way, the right manner of implementing this transformation might be a total-conversion add-on.

      Instead of fitting 33 bookmarks on my 15.6 inch display on my laptop, I’d be lucky to get 10 tiles. With favicons, bookmarks can allow me to scan for text in a bookmark title, or quickly locate a favicon of a site I recognize–I’m not sure tiles would be an improvement on this.

      Yes, this would need experimentation. It is quite possible that we would realize that big tiles are more suited for casual users and that power users would need to convert this into a list. After all, in my Finder/Explorer/Nautilus/Konqueror/… I always convert big icons display to a list. But conversely, I suspect that casual users prefer the opposite. Would the ability to switch between grid display and list display satisfy your needs?

      Perhaps another angle on this would be to question the benefit to this. […]

      Well, the issue is that having 9 places (10 including search) to look for a page that you want to revisit is confusing and error-prone. Right now, the only mechanisms I use are tabs (with groups) and the awesome bar, but they are both fragile: if I navigate away from a tab I have kept for later, I have lost the original page, while stuff disappears from the awesome bar in time.

      The expected benefit of reducing these 9 mechanisms to a single abstraction is simplicity: only one place to look for a page that I want to read, and all ways return the same view.

      As a bonus, the ability to shutdown tabs is a great mechanism to improve responsiveness, memory usage and battery usage.

      So let me end with this: talk me into your new way. How about a followup blogpost showing us how useful this might be? As I started out my comment, I might end up liking it after a few months, but I’m not convinced I will, that’s all.

      I will try and write a followup, if I have time.

      • Paul R says:

        Interesting points here.

        If I’m understanding you correctly, it appears that you don’t browse your bookmarks much at all—tabs/tab groups, and the URLbar is what you said you access your sites with. I usually browse for bookmarks, or browse or search my history, to get a site displayed. I think it would be very tough to keep bookmarks nested within folders and subfolders, if bookmarks, open tabs, tab groups, and history were all displayed in one menu that I could scroll through. Not only would I lose the benefit of nested folders of bookmarks (sometimes, it’s not easy to remember what the URL of a bookmarked site is), but I’d have to scroll through my history to get to it. I guess the reason why I don’t use tab groups is that I often will use the Bookmark All Tabs feature, then delete that folder when I’m done.

        I suppose I could learn to use tags with bookmarks, but I’m wondering how long it would take me to properly tag all my bookmarked sites, and then simply start accessing them via the URL bar. It might take that to get me out of the habit of browsing through my bookmarked folders. On the other hand, I wasn’t aware that this was a problem that needed to be solved.

        And I definitely would want an option to toggle for this Awesome Pages menu, whether it would be tiles/grid and list displays. No worries about what is default, as long as I can toggle an option. That was a good suggestion.

        While we’re at it, can we add an option to modify the criteria that FF uses to display the tiles/list? Some might not want their history at all; others for only a certain number of days; others might want bookmarks before history, others vice versa. Last time I checked, FF didn’t allow users to modify the criteria for displaying sites in the dropdown box from the URLbar. This would be nice.

        I’d probably turn off the feature of saving a bookmarked site to the hard drive; I print to PDF maybe 1/100 at most, of the sites I visit. I’d rather not surf through all that clutter, just to access the file and move it into my documents partition.

        OK, I see the benefit you mentioned: a simplification of storing sites I want to access again (or perhaps, don’t know that I’ll want to access again, which would explain why I’d go to my history rather than my bookmarks). Simplification is a worthy goal. I just started using Pocket, and all of a sudden today, I’m thinking in the back of my mind that my surfing “save for later” stuff is too spread out; I have bookmarks, now Pocket, and two sections in the UI in my RSS reader. That’s only 4. I can see why 9 would drive anyone crazy. OK history makes 5.

        I can see the utility here. Let me approach this in another way. You haven’t touched on the question about bookmarks in nested folders. As I said earlier, Opera ditched bookmarks with the advent of Opera 15 and the users had a fit. They eventually had to bring them back. Let me ask you, what your proposal would do with bookmarked folders? How easy would they be to access, if they would even exist at all? Would you just use tags?

        Looking forward to the next blogpost. I don’t know if this came via Planet Mozilla or not—not sure how I stumbled across this, but I’m glad I did.

      • yoric says:

        (this is a long comment, I’ll try and reply to the main points, please tell me if you feel I forgot something important)

        If I’m understanding you correctly, it appears that you don’t browse your bookmarks much at all

        Indeed.

        Let me ask you, what your proposal would do with bookmarked folders? How easy would they be to access, if they would even exist at all? Would you just use tags?

        I think so, but I admit I haven’t pondered this seriously yet.

  • emanuele says:

    I’ve never seen so many bad ideas in a single post in my life.

  • Tim says:

    It’s an interesting read, but I’m not convinced. Although I’m probably an outsider, there’s one of my tab use cases that I don’t see covered by your scheme.

    I use my tabs as some sort of “temporary bookmark”. An interesting article I want to read, but don’t have time for at the moment. I could of course bookmark them, but that’s an overhead action, and I don’t actually want to keep these articles forever. Also, I used to bookmark these, and I just forgot I did. Tabs are always in sight, which is easier.

    In busy times, some of these tabs can stay open for months before I get to read them. With your “Awesome tabs”, they would be forgotten by history, since it doesn’t keep a direct reference to them.

    • yoric says:

      Do you actually end up reading them?

      I tend to hoard tabs for the same reason you do, then eventually realize that I don’t have time to read them, or simply that there are too many of them, and I click “Close Tabs to the Right”.

      So, in practice, they are just like history, except:
      – they clutter my screen;
      – I need to close them myself;
      – they eat memory, CPU and battery.

      • Tim says:

        They barely eat memory, cpu and battery, because most of them are unloaded🙂 And yes, I end up reading them. I’m a university student at the moment, so every once in a while I have a long holiday to catch up.
        I’m not sure if it’s still feasible if I start working, but I don’t have to care about that yet🙂

  • voracity says:

    I love the Awesome Bookmarks suggestion (the “Bookmarking is saving is reading later” section + saving of page state, but only for snapshots). I’ve tried so many snapshotting tools in the past, but given up on them all because they’re quite clunky to use (particularly across devices). But if I had a “bookmarks with benefits”, that would be ideal.

    I’d have to side with others on the rest though. In particular, *really* not a fan of the contemptuous treatment of apps on mobile — it’s only acceptable because of the very limited resources there.

    • yoric says:

      I love the Awesome Bookmarks suggestion (the “Bookmarking is saving is reading later” section + saving of page state, but only for snapshots). I’ve tried so many snapshotting tools in the past, but given up on them all because they’re quite clunky to use (particularly across devices). But if I had a “bookmarks with benefits”, that would be ideal.

      Thanks. If I find time, I might write an add-on to explore the concept.

      I’d have to side with others on the rest though. In particular, *really* not a fan of the contemptuous treatment of apps on mobile — it’s only acceptable because of the very limited resources there.

      Well, I have been running Firefox with a tab auto-unloader for a few months and I like it. I’ll try and write my own, as an add-on, once I find time.

  • Steve Fink says:

    I like the direction. In fact, I have a 6 month old unpublished blog post that talked about the same problems, and came up with a somewhat similar set of solutions. You took yours farther towards something real (partly why I never published it). I was more thinking about merging everything and then offering various filtered views. I also mentally use Tree Style Tabs as a starting point, since it feels better to me than the default interface in every way. It’s a small change, but it does affect how I think about and use tabs/history.

    In short, I completely agree on the importance of the issues you’re tackling. The current setup is an outdated mess. It cries out for some kind of overarching architectural generalization, perhaps one that could be used to provide pretty much exactly the current setup but would have options for dealing with things very very differently. I suspect I’d like your proposed setup better than the status quo, but I’m not yet sold on it being quite right for me yet.

    Since you reminded me of it, I read back through my unfinished blog post. It’s not as awful as I remembered. Perhaps I’ll just post it. The perfect is the enemy of the good and all that.

    • yoric says:

      By all means, please post your version. My objective with this blog post is to try and wake up that redesign.

      Because 1/ the current design is outdated; 2/ some browser is going to get it right, and I’d rather it be Firefox leading the way, than crash-landing a me-too implementation.

  • Good thoughts. Here are my proposal:

    Think Social. In Social websites you have 3 actions: Share , Favorite and Follow. So why not only have 3 buttons:

    For Sharing:
    __________

    Firefox already has “Share this page” toolbar button. “Pocket it” toolbar button should be another service option inside “Share this page”

    Mark as Favourtie
    _________________

    I think that “Bookmark it” it’s the best option. When user sets a Bookmark then user should have several options:
    1) save bookmark in unordered bookmarks
    2) save bookmark in NewTab homepage (New)
    3) save bookmark in toolbar
    4) save bookmark in bookmarks menu
    5) save in Pocket it
    6) edit and save page in disk (similar to ScrapBook!!!)

    Follow this page
    __________________

    Firefox should have the Subscribe to RSS button in first place and rename it to “Follow this page”

    After that Firefox should have an RSS reader that should reassemble to News page in Opera, or the Google Reader, …

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