Giving your browser a memory — the roadmap

January 05, 2017

Web browsers suffer chronic amnesia. They excel at quickly accessing remote knowledge, but are no use in keeping or managing it — bookmarks suck, browser history is a joke, hoarding dozens of tabs is grossly inadequate, and other tools are often too cumbersome. We handle much more information than our brains were designed for, so we need better ways to augment our intellect.

This project is about repurposing the browser towards its original purpose: managing information. The approach is to build a browser extension that lets you grow your own web of knowledge, with pages you have read, thoughts you wrote down and connections you made. From a user's perspective, it is a memory extension, giving you a digital memory that you can browse and search through with your assocations, and that you can even share with others.

If you know me even a little, you probably heard this idea many times, and may have seen the experiments I made over the past year or so. The goal is now to take all the great feedback received and lessons learnt, and prototype a practical solution for organising our digital minds. Experimental still, but usable and useful, and hopefully inspiring for others in turn.

The project philosophy is to consider many of the desired features as separate projects, each adding some functionality to the browser, while together forming a coherent user experience. The plan is to start with quickly developing the bare essentials of each feature in the next few months, borrowing from existing work where available, and then improve them in parallel. The work will be grouped in three phases, each covering a group of features.

1. Overview & recall

The first phase aims to provide you a timeline overview of your memory, displaying the documents you have read and the paths you took to get to them, and letting you browse and search through them. So you can safely close those tabs and still find things back, and then recall not just one document, but get its whole context around it.

In a sense, this overview will unify the functionality now provided by browser history, bookmarks (which are just highlights in your history), and even tabs (which are your most recent history). At some moment, it could perhaps replace the browser interface altogether. For now, it will remain simpler, and will be split up in four components:

2. Create & organise

The next step is to enable you to create links and notes, so you can organise your memory and turn it into your personal web. A bit like a mind map of your memory, with your thoughts and assocations.

You could say we are tightly integrating a private wiki into your browser, for easily jotting down your thoughts, and adding quotes from and links to your best reads. For the first prototype, the main features to develop are:

3. Share & sync

With the ability to create your personal web locally in your browser, the next step is to synchronise your web with your server (or service provider), so you can publish notes and links on the world wide web.

You can then also edit the same web on multiple devices, and perhaps even sync it with friends to form a collective memory. The main components in this phase are:

This roadmap may sound ambitious, and it is. But let's first start with building a proof of concept and testing how that works out. The plan is to cover phase one and push out a first browser extension already in one month, follow with phase two in March, and push through phase three in April/May. And after that? Let's see by then. :)

Great you made it (or skipped?) down to the end. This write-up sketched the project direction, and is to be the first of a stream of regular updates, initiated to involve all of you who would like to follow the progress, be among the first test-users, and perhaps contribute to its development. So feel free to subscribe to updates, and do not hesitate to leave a message or pop in on IRC if you would like to share any expertise, code, designs, or ideas!

Now, let's code.