Firefox Journal

What is it?

Right now it uses Firefox 3.  So you’ll have to download that and try it out.  The download is only 8 megs, so just try it out.

We’re taking advantage of Firefox’s new Places system, which is basically storing history, bookmarks, annotations, and tags in a local sqlite database.

The Journal takes over as your homepage.  What?  You read that a homepage isn’t useful? Yes, well this isn’t a “homepage”, it’s a journal and according to wikipedia a journal is a daily record of events or business.

Go, read the Firefox Journal wiki page.  The instructions are easy: download, run, grab the extension, and you’re done!

What is the Journal doing?

We have lots of plans for the Journal, but lets start with the basics.

History

The Journal rewrites history!  For the better of course, that’s the only reason anyone would rewrite history… The Journal tries to write your history to you like you’d want to read it.  It’s trying to change what you do into an adventure instead of a log, as if Theodore Roosevelt was writing for your browsing history.

For example, my browsing history might look like this:

Theodore Roosevelt – Google Search http://www.google.com/search?q=Theodore+Roosevelt&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a
Theodore Roosevelt http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theodore_Roosevelt
Theodore Roosevelt http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theodore_Roosevelt#War_in_Cuba
Battle of San Juan Hill http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_San_Juan_Hill
Battle of San Juan Hill http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_San_Juan_Hill#Kettle_Hil

When it could look like this:

Searched for: Theodore Roosevelt http://www.google.com/search?q=Theodore+Roosevelt
Found: Theodore Roosevelt http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theodore_Roosevelt
Fought in the: Theodore Roosevelt » War In Cuba http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theodore_Roosevelt#War_in_Cuba
Fought at the: Battle of San Juan Hill http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_San_Juan_Hill
Charged up the: Battle of San Juan Hill » Kettle Hill http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_San_Juan_Hill#Kettle_Hil

Obviously, I’m adding actions to the history that are fictitious but still quite possible.  By understanding URLs and websites the Journal can optimize the view of your history; shorten URLs, improve titles, remove useless URLs.

Look at your current browser history

Go ahead right now and open up your browsers history.  Ctrl-H is usually the access key assigned to your browsers history.  Firefox will open up a sidebar with folders for different time periods and a small search.  Epiphany does a much better job with a separate window for looking at your history and some grouping by host name is helpful, much better than the grouping by date that Firefox does.

However any of the current systems are only logging your history, and for what?  How often do you use that log?  Probably not very often and I think that’s because it’s not actually written for you to use.  Well we’re changing that, by writing the history in a way that’s useful for you to use.

Getting those links back

I’ve been using the Journal now for about 2 weeks and I was able to write this entire blog entry without hitting the network once.  All the links I needed were available from the Journal’s view of my history.  The search uses the internal Firefox search methods so it’s quite good at using multiple terms and finding the right thing.

So check out the code and try out the Journal.  Next up are other enhancements of the history, making it active with site information via RSS, grabbing microformats to save addresses and phone numbers.

Web Browser Homepage Observations

I’ve been looking over the comments from the earlier Web Browser Homepage post and there were certainly a large number of people who said they were using about:blank, mostly for speed reasons as well as the distraction reason. And some other interesting situations / use cases that people mentioned happening, here’s a quick breakdown.

Persistent Browser Sessions was a topic touched upon a number of times by different people.  Having the browser know what sessions you used last time and bringing those back after a crash or having it remember a state you want to have every time you open the web browser.

Dirk mentioned using Wikipedia:Random as a homepage where you always end up learning something new, which I thought was a really cool idea.

Lots of people use google.com or google.com/ig or the firefox equivalent start page.

Many people use a local file:// link to bookmarks.html or another local page of links and useful things they maintain

Straight up about: (which I didn’t know existed) gives a quick loading page that reminds you what version you’re running.

Several mentions of Speed Dial from Opera, which I have to say looks very nice.

Some people use planet, which probably loads fairly quickly and keeps you up with what’s happening in your world / universe.

Bill had an interesting solution of using the about:blank page with custom sidebar of file:// links, lots of speed and the ability to jump off to new places.

A couple mentions of using del.icio.us bookmarks page also with specials tags like “workflow”, i.e. links you’d go to often

Many people used the set | of | tabs | for | homepage which opens multiple pages in different tabs at once, several people mentioned that the order of the pages was very important.  Some people even put in the about:blank at the end of their list of tabs so they have the last one ready to go somewhere new.

Custom web homepage of the /~clarkbw/ variety.  Dan and Jesse had some really interesting and different ones.

Other people used news sites like http://politiken.dk/ or http://news.bbc.co.uk/ because they are pretty fast and they want to get a glimse of what’s happening in the world before start something.

Adam mentioned loading his router’s status page because it’s really fast and can have some useful information sometimes.

Firefox Journal

Walters and I have been talking about the web browsers homepage, bookmarks, and history and how they all relate for a little while now.  A couple weeks ago we started working on something that we think could help this situation we have with them.

  1. History is valuable.  You keep doing the same things over and over again on your computer, especially in your web browser.  Why isn’t that part front and center?
  2. Bookmarks are a management task.  Bookmarks have a tendency to become stale over time and end up as clutter unless you careful prune and manage them like it was your garden.  At the same time the sites you bookmark are probably the ones you go to most often, then what did you need to bookmark them?
  3. A Homepage is usually a waste of time.  Went through the specifics in my last post, but a homepage just isn’t all that useful.  With all the amazing ideas listed above we have an excellent base to make something little bit more useful for all of us collectively.

So we created something we called the Firefox Journal.  It only works with Firefox 3 right now, but we’re working on that.  Here’s the point of it, in bullet format.

  • Show the Places You Visit Most
  • Auto-Clean up and tidy the display of your Recent History
  • Allow quick Searching of your History and Bookmarks
  • Help to perform Alternative Searches

So try it out!  It won’t take much time to get it up and running so you can see what we’re up to.  It’s dead simple to hack on this (i’m doing some of the hacking) and improve it.  We need help with the HTML layout and the Querying of the places.

I’m also working on a “live” history system that pulls RSS feeds from the sites you travel to down into your history view such that we can say:  Colin Walters – LiveJournal (2 Posts since your last visit) instead of just the URL.  Cool stuff!

Web Browser Homepage

Does anyone use a homepage for their browser anymore?

The homepage seemed like all the rage back in the beginning of the web.  Until IE 7 there was a function in JavasScript you could use, this never worked in Firefox but still lots of sites used it trying to get people to set their site as the browser homepage.

document.setHomePage("http://clarkbw.net/blog/"); /* score! */

I have been using about:blank as my homepage for so long now that homepages could have come back in style and I would have no idea.  Even if they were cool again, I still have a number of issues with most homepage designs / implementations.

Slow.  Even though google.com/ig is pretty fast to load, I still hate waiting for it to load. The blank page is almost instantaneous.  A local page could be very fast as well.  Maybe something could be done to get the browser to a usable state (non-blocking) if it knew it was loading a homepage?

Distracting.  When I start the browser up I’m often headed somewhere, I have a goal in mind.  Either I’m looking to find something new or I’m looking to go back to someplace I’ve been before.  Almost never do I open up my browser and hope it will have things ready for me to do.  And if I do see something of interest on my homepage odds are my ADD will kick in and I won’t have a clue what I was originally looking for; that’s the last thing I need.

Static.   Ok it’s probably not a actual static page (do people do that?), the homepage could be one of those “awesome portals” of circa 1990s technology.  From there I can collect lots of little widgets and attempt to arrange them all on my screen.  Then those widgets could light up with lots of different information that isn’t static.  Of course I’m still responsible for managing the widgets, finding new ones, removing old ones, and ordering them all so they fit nicely.  Wheee!!

Pushing the Envelope with technology from 1980

A while back when I was researching information for the Epiphany project and I had looked at a number of people who were using their Bookmarks.html page as their homepage.

It had some great effects because it was local and fast, you could search it fairly effectively with the browser search, and it had all the places you go to often (assuming you bookmark them).  The only problem I saw was that it moved the problem of a static nature over to something else, your bookmarks manager; from there you now had to manage things on your homepage.  And you had to bookmark everything you wanted to go back to.

That seemed close, except that I don’t like to manage my bookmarks, it’s about as fun as cleaning my room.  Zero Management?  Is that possible?  I’m not sure it’s possible to have a useful homepage with zero management required, but I really want it.

What are people using?

What are people using for their current homepage and why?  Is everyone using the about:blank like me?  My mom uses whatever page ATT&T (her ISP) happened to set as the default for her homepage.  Most of my friends haven’t changed their homepage from whatever the default was, when asked none of them really thought about the difference it might make.

aboot

This is the blog personality of Bryan Clark. I'm a designer in a world of open source. This blog reflects mostly writing about Design, Open Source, Economics, Beer, Wine, and Dogs. There's more information about me on this site or you can contact me directly at clarkbw@gmail.com.

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