Browsers Should Browse

A few weeks ago I gave a short talk at The Future of the Browser conference where I made a this controversial claim: The browser is not where we do our browsing.

Indeed, if we go back to the definition:

To Browse

To look over or through an aggregate of things casually especially in search of something of interest.


Browsing is about looking at aggregates, yet browsers are all about presenting us with individual units of contents.

In a world that produces information much faster than we can process it, the superpower we need is the ability to effectively look at collections. That’s the superpower our platforms grant us. Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Twitch… They are all designed to make it easy for us to browse through a collection.

Unfortunately, though, they do it while trapping us in their walled-gardens. What we really need, is a similarly powerful collection-browsing tool that is also open and can work on any collection.

So, what’s the difference between a web browser and browsing?

Units. Browsers are good at presenting atomic pieces of content. Web pages. They do not intrinsically understand the concept of a collection. Yet browsing is about looking through an aggregate of things. To browse, we need a tool that works primarily with collections.

Presentation. Browsing should minimize the cognitive load required to make sense of the things we browse through. Yet browsers render every page according to the whims of the page creator. It’s great to create our rich and diversified web, but it’s awful to reduce the cognitive load we must deploy to browse this disparate content. Browsing, on the other hand, cares about creating a more uniform environment. An environment in which each thing in the collection can be quickly understood.

Level of detail. A browser allows us to interact with the content in its entirety, with all the details included. But browsing works best if we can focus on the important details first. A good browser should hide low-level details and let us unfold them as we need.

This is very much in line with what we’re building at Waverly. I hope we can free the superpower of browsing and make it available to everyone, no matter which collection you want to look through.