We need better web browser history. Here’s why and how…

furiousfirefox 070807
At around 100 tabs, my MacBook Pro starts taking a beating… gotta blog faster!

Back in February last year, I started a Furious Firefox Tabs contest which was semi-popular in the blogosphere and had a mention on Wired’s MoneyBites. While it stands as my way of playing on the Firefox memory leak controversy, it does show some form of information addiction I (and probably many of you) suffer from.

To understand what’s going on when we browse, let’s take a look at how I work…
I’ve read all kinds of blogs everyday, and every time I see something interesting (even if it’s not related to my initial search), I would branch off to a new site with a hit of the Command-click (or Control-click for Windows) to spawn the link in a new tab. This process repeats itself and soon I have a cluster of tabs, which I try to organize geographically around my browser. When things get slow, I would then review what I can blog about, and what might be too trivial, I either del.icio.us or close off. Now since some of the stories I write about can be quite deliberate (long thorough vs. short quick posts), I might put them off and never actually write about them. That’s bad.

"Berrypicking" search behaviour

To understand this searching or browsing behavior, take a look at Figure 2 above. Marcia Bates wrote about this browsing behavior even before many of us even heard about the Internet, simply because searching is pretty universal!

Entitled “The Design of Browsing and Berrypicking Techniques for the Online Search Interface” (1989) [1], Marcia argues that berrypicking is a new searching model which is much closer to the real behavior of information searchers than the traditional model of information retrieval and therefore it will guide our thinking better in the design of effective interfaces. If you read her journal article, the traditional model of information retrieval was simply linear… which was quite unrealistic given how you’ve probably distracted yourself with somewhat semi-related but imprecise links to what you initially looked for.

How has the web browser changed to accommodate our way of browsing?
Browser Tabs. But that’s the halfway.

The ease of exploring new links without losing what you’re initially looking at can be a boon,
and after Gssq saw how I was tracking all these streams of information, he suggested I try Tab Mix Plus, which only fed my information addiction further. That’s what I use to get the multi-layered tabs you see above. I’m warning you, it can get unhealthy so be careful using it.

What’s the best way to manage our berrypicking browsing behavior then?
I believe in Browser Maps.

Similar to mind maps, we need a more map-like approach to our browser history. Rather than to archive our online movement linear and chronologically, we need to be topically oriented, but having the browser generate a tree of the links we visit.

That said, has anyone seen anything like this before?
I’ve seen one, but it’s experimental. We need an equivalent extension for Firefox.

MacWarriors: Trailblazer

Back in March 2004, University of Illinois students released TrailBlazer, a new user interface to represent your web browsing history. It lays out the pages you visit in a simple 2D map with thumbnails and summaries. The project took 2nd place at the university’s annual Engineering Open House and a three minute video (Quicktime movie) is available that demonstrates TrailBlazer for those who don’t have Mac OS X Panther.

That was 2004. Don’t you think it’s time someone made some kind of “archive mapping” extension for Firefox?

[1] Bates, Marcia J. (1989). “The Design of Browsing and Berrypicking Techniques for the Online Search Interface.” Online Review, 13(5): 407-424. Available online.

10 thoughts on “We need better web browser history. Here’s why and how…

  1. I needed this! THANKS!

    trackback back to what i wished to see in the future of browsing on the internet!

    it’ll be very very useful for tracking trends and conversation paths (being in the media and communications industry, i see that as quiite important)

    yippie kay yay!

  2. I like the idea. The plugin could also be used by web developers in usage tests.

    BTW: If you want to open a page in a tab, you can usually just click the middle mouse button (or click the scroll wheel if your mouse doesn’t have a third button)

  3. Good idea there. I see the need for this for some people; knowing how one got to a particular idea is good to be able to trace back. But for the average computer user it could be confusing. Heck, most people I know don’t even know what a Firefox tab IS.

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