King of the Web

Matt Webb has been thinking big thoughts about the future of the web:

It’s hot and it’s lunchtime, so let’s pretend I’m in charge of major global technical infrastructure!

I wrote about how I would improve RSS the other day (because being able to subscribe to text is super neat, but it’s so arcane compared to smartphone apps). And after writing that, it occurred to me that the problem is wider:

The user experience of the web itself sucks.

It is less pleasant to use a web browser than it is to use apps. But that’s because the browser-makers (Google and Apple, primarily) have silently abdicated their responsibility to make browsing good. I get it, they’re conflicted, they’re also running super profitable app stores.


As I read this I was expecting it to turn into a bunch of impractical suggestions, but in fact the three concrete suggestions he puts forward…

  1. Web browsers capturing details of newsletters published by every site visited over the last 24 hours and an interface that would let you easily subscribe to those newsletters;
  2. A facility for the browser to capture and make available text entered into web forms (the better to avoid losing comments that you started but didn't finish);1
  3. Browsers prominently displaying stats on how often the current page has been retweeted/shared.

… seem like worthwhile enhancements. I suspect I'd turn #3 off pretty quickly,2 but the other two I'd very much like to see. More generally, I miss the days when OmniWeb for OS X was a live project, one that offered way more flexibility in how the user wanted to browse the web than the then-current version of Safari did.

But then, thinking fond thoughts about early versions of Safari is just a sign that I'm getting old. Next thing you know I'll be posting about how much more fun Usenet was than Twitter and Reddit.

  1. I have a vague recollection that there used to be an extension for Safari on MacOS X that let you tell Safari what standalone text editor you wanted to use to compose text in web forms. I don't remember the details, and I'm unclear on whether it also offered to apply some structure to saving off whatever content you'd drafted or just left that to the user to figure out for themselves, but I'm sure that was something that used to be in the world a decade or so back until some change to how Safari handled extensions made it go away. 
  2. This one could easily end up cluttering up the interface unless the browser user got to select which social media they wanted to see numbers about.