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Richard Schloss
Richard Schloss

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How do YOU use the web? (Do you still "browse"?)

TL;DR -- We all call our favorite web client a "web browser". But, is it still a "browser" we want or something else? Perhaps something more fitting to the majority of our needs?

Last night, I came across an interesting post about a new web browser entering the ecosystem. I always applaud new players making an appearance and you will not find someone more excited about new web browsers than me. (I even toyed with Servo when it was truly bleeding-edge!)

However, I wonder if it may be worthwhile to step back for a moment to ask: in modern times, what does our web usage actually look like? How much "browsing" is still being done? How much browsing do users actually want to do? Would "web client" be the more appropriate term? And what about the developer experience? Doesn't that matter too? Wouldn't developers be far more productive if they could simply code once and deploy everywhere? Currently, developers have to do all sorts of checks to see what client is being used (IE/firefox/chrome?), and adjust the code to that. Not a fun process.

Perhaps it would help if I talked to my primary web usage patterns:

  1. Email / communication: I use a client. The messages just come to me, I don't go to them. Easier than browsing.
  2. Social media: Browse separate feeds on ~3-4 different platforms. But, it can be a time-wasting habit to post / check those various platforms, especially when the information is similar.
  3. Maps: I only use one Maps application. Even if there are better ones out there, the app I've used has served me well when I've been lost, so I just stick with it. Most of my waking hours, however, are not spent using Maps...because I usually know the route once I've learned it.
  4. Shopping: Browse different sites
  5. Dating: Browse different sites
  6. News: Browse different sites. Sometimes the news shows in my "new tab" feed in Chrome's Android app. Is it the news I want to see? Yes and no, sometimes.

So yes, a web "browser" helps solve a couple of my needs mentioned in the list, however, I can think of ways a web client can perhaps serve my needs better. Even if the web browser performs "browsing" orders of magnitude faster than its competitors, I can argue that solving my actual problem may provide a far better experience for me.

Reducing or eliminating the need to browse could be all the difference. Take online dating for example. Where are all the single people? Answer: they are spread across all sorts of websites. Each user has to browse mindlessly for them: browse this website, then that one, then another one. And, each website usually requires a lengthy registration step. So, even if the web browsing is lightning fast, it may not be the optimal user experience.

What may be better? Possibly a web aggregator and/or assistant? Would it not be a far better experience if the single person could simply have the dating information aggregated into one screen? What if there are two similar female profiles, but those profiles are on separate websites? What do you tell the poor guy who couldn't win over the first female? In the data-separated model, each website says, "I'm afraid you're out of luck here...", but in a model that aggregates the information, the aggregator could say say, "well, you're in luck today! here's a similar female that actually matches you better..."

Unfortunately, as of this writing, there are several obstacles with this approach. So many websites close off their APIs, making data aggregation a difficult, but not impossible, task. A non-Kosher route requires webcrawling and webscraping, which provides no guarantee of being reliable (or legal? I don't know, I'm not a lawyer...).

Yet another challenge is protecting and respecting user privacy. So, a person on dating site A may not want his information shared with dating site B. An aggregator would have to respect the privacy settings. Conversely, the person doing the browsing may want her privacy protected as well. A single girl may accidentally click on a single guy and...the site leaks that information out to the guy! (result: single guy thinks single girl is interested and...a flooded inbox of "mixed content" awaits single girl! oh no!)

Anyway, I can go on and on with other use cases. What are your thoughts? How do you use the web? How would your experience be better?

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