Chris Hannah

Web


Arc Browser #

Just a little over a month ago, I was pretty enthusiastic about a new web browser called Arc. My exact feelings were:

I’ve been using Arc browser for about 15 minutes, and I’m already happy enough to set it as my default.

My reasons early on were to do with its attitude on what a browser should be, how feature-rich it was, and how I thought it was designed for the modern web.

Well, I can say that after a month of using Arc, both for personal use and at my day job, I've switched back to Safari.

I have to point out that I am not completely against Arc, nor am I declaring its existence to be a failure. I've just decided that it's clearly designed for a different type of user.

For a moment I was mesmerised by its features, how it behaved, and the quirkiness of it. Maybe it was because it was the new and shiny toy I wanted to play with. Regardless, the way in which I want to use a web browser doesn't quite fit with Arc.

You could say, I discovered that I wasn't a fan of the modern web. That would be somewhat true. I am a big fan of relatively-small websites, personal blogs, and any website that is free of the usual bloat. So there was part of me that was always falling back to a more traditional web browser like Safari.

However, there are definitely features of Arc that while may be fun for others, made my use more difficult than it needed to be.

I'll start with the Sidebar. This is probably the most obvious visual difference when comparing Arc to other browsers. It's essentially a combination of a bookmark bar and a tab bar. Except there is a slight difference, in that instead of bookmarks, you have pinned tabs. Which can stay active, and keep your session loaded without needing to open the bookmark link in another tab/window.

I can see how the pinned tabs can be a smart idea, but for my use, they started to irritate me. In my mind, a bookmark is just a URL that I can then choose to open in a new tab/window. I didn't always want it to keep its state after I was done with it.

One good part of it is the player controls at the bottom if you have something playing. This worked for me with both YouTube and the Spotify web player. I used it a few times, but when I want to control what's playing when it's not the active tab, I just use the media controls on my MacBook keyboard.

The biggest problem I had with the sidebar was its prominence. It's simply too big to keep open at all times. As someone that constantly navigates between multiple tabs, it's quite hard to do that without the sidebar open. With it closed, I literally have no idea what tabs are open, where they are, and how to quickly navigate to them. Whereas in Safari, I can see my open tabs at all times, and I can either use the cursor to select one, or the keyboard shortcut (CMD + SHIFT + LEFT/RIGHT).

I must say, websites do look good when you hide the sidebar. But it does feel a bit restrictive. Especially when the sidebar also contains the address bar. And even when you do have the sidebar open, the address bar is tiny.

Password/Bookmark Sync

This may seem like it's more of a personal preference, rather an issue with Arc itself. But I would think most people would appreciate their passwords and bookmarks to sync between their devices.

I use iCloud Keychain for passwords on all of my devices, and of course, my bookmarks are synced via Safari. So when I tried to use Arc, nothing was in sync. I had to slowly move passwords into Arc (the migration didn't work for me), and if I created a password in Arc, I'd then have to remember it again when I used another browser.

Even if I conveniently forgot that iCloud Keychain also provides my passwords for apps, there is no Arc browser for iOS or iPadOS. So, that was always going to be a problem.

Command Bar

Another great feature that is packed full of functionality, but I found it more complex for my use case than it needed to be.

At the start, I would use the command bar to quickly make a web search, open a new tab, (try to) launch an existing tab by entering the name of the page, and even perform actions like pinning the current tab.

But after a while, it started to feel like it did too much. When I tried to quickly do a search, it would either autofill a URL, or match an open tab, so I was always opening things accidentally.

The command bar essentially becomes the entry point for most things in Arc. But it never felt fast to me. It's certainly powerful, but I'm used to using keyboard shortcuts to quickly navigate and use Safari, so I never found this to be very useful.

Conclusion

To wrap it up, Arc is a good browser, and I'm sure many people would find it fun and easy to use. It may even open them up to even more complex actions because of the command bar. But it's just not for me.

There are certainly good parts to the browser, I like the design, split-view, separate spaces, chrome plugins, the concept of a command bar, and a few other things. But for how I want to use the web, and a web browser specifically, I started to get the feeling like it was working against me. And I don't have the energy to use a web browser that makes me feel like that when there are much better options available for me.

So now, I'm back to good ol' Safari. Where I can see what I have open at a glance, navigate between tabs quickly, keep everything in sync with the rest of my devices, and in general not feel as if my web browser is trying to make an impression on me. It just lets me do what I want, when I want, and as fast as I want to do it.



Blogging Like It’s 2010

Matt Bircher has been taking time away from Twitter, and spending more time writing on his blog. I find his reasoning very convincing, and I think I will also try to share more things on my blog, rather than condensing thoughts into hot takes on Twitter.

Typefully Adds Images Support, User Mentions, and Other Improvements #

Typefully, the great web-based tweet composer has received a very welcome update. Bringing images and GIFs support, user mentions, quoted tweets, and more.

Just like most Twitter clients, you can add up to 4 images per tweets. And because you just see a text representation in the editor, it’s pretty easy to move them around and get the perfect composition.

It also now supports username suggestions, which are pretty handy, since I for one have become used to this being standard. Which means there’s a good chance I’ll make a mistake if I have to do it manually.

There’s a ton more improvements as well, like quoted tweets correctly appearing in the preview, being able to copy a link to a thread from the sidebar, seeing your time zone when scheduling tweets, and even being able to escape HTML correctly.

While I don’t use Typefully as my main tweet composer, I have used it a fair few times when writing threads, or scheduling tweets.

I planned to use it quite a lot with the recent release of Text Case. I wanted to have an announcement thread scheduled, with maybe a few related tweets going out at later times as well. But the only thing that held me back was image support, so I can definitely see the value of these features.

Up next in the plans for Typefully are features like being able to see a calendar of your tweets, and also analytics. It sounds like Typefully could become a really useful tool.

Wikipedia Is Finally Getting a New Look #

Olga Vasileva, writing at Diff (a blog ran by the WIkimedia volunteer community) about the new look that’s coming to Wikipedia, and also why they’re making the changes now:

Wikipedia has remained a critical and widely-used resource for knowledge across the world for the past two decades. Over this time, the site has expanded significantly to contain unparalleled amounts of reliable and thorough information, including 53 million articles across over 300 languages. While Wikipedia’s content has grown rapidly, our interface has not kept pace. We’re proud that our website is more direct, simple, and advertisement-free than the rest of the internet. Yet, the design of desktop Wikipedia and other Wikimedia Foundation projects have not seen any substantive changes for the past 10 years, leaving certain elements of the site’s navigation feeling clunky and overwhelming to readers and editors whose main purpose is to create, learn, and curate content.

There’s no definitive list yet on the differences that will be coming in the new design. But the improvements will include things like a max content width, collapsible sidebar, sticky headers, more prominent search bar and table of contents, and a few other things. You can see a few of these concepts on MediaWiki.

WindowSwap #

Okay, so this website is great.

It’s called WindowSwap, as as you may have already guessed, it’s a window into other peoples… windows.

I think it’s a brilliant idea. And I’ve already been watching the videos out of various peoples windows. I’ve seen windows from all over the UK, India, Israel, Germany, Finland, and I’m going to watch some more now.

If you’re thinking it’s just going to be a website where you just click through random badly taken photos out of peoples windows, then you’ll certainly be surprised. The videos on WindowSwap are 10-minute HD videos, which I assume go through some amount of compression, and it depends on your connection as to what quality you see.

One thing I’ve noticed, is that I haven’t been fond of any views from windows in England. it seems there’s much better views everywhere else in the world.

Speed Test by CloudFlare #

I just came across a new speed test tool (via The Newsprint), and it’s certainly the most detailed and responsive one I’ve seen.

It’s made by CloudFlare, and has the simple name of Speed Test. You can find it at speed.cloudflare.com.

Unlike Speedtest.net, it loads instantly, and there’s no delay until your internet connection is tested. Which is something that always annoyed me when visiting Speedtest.net.

The speed or instantaneous testing aren’t the only benefits. It’s also packed full of data. Have a look at my screenshot below, to see the type of stuff you can test.

(You may worry that I’ve shared my location. Rest assured that this data isn’t even close to being accurate.)

BBC Launches Tool for Joint Lockdown Viewing #

BBC News – Entertainment & Arts:

If you’ve been wishing you could enjoy a TV or radio show with friends during lockdown, the BBC is trialling a tool to allow just that.

BBC Together lets you watch or listen to content from BBC iPlayer, Sounds, Bitesize, News and Sport in sync with other people using different devices.

It is available through the BBC’s experimental website Taster.

BBC R&D’s Dr Libby Miller said being separate “doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy great programmes with our friends”.

She added: “We wanted to see if technology could bring people together to watch and listen to BBC shows remotely as a shared experience.”

The “host” of the group can send a link from the BBC Together site, then control when to play and pause so everyone sees the same thing at the same time. A maximum number of 50 people can join.

I’ve heard about this type of platform before, where groups of people in different locations can watch videos or listen to music together. So it’s good to see BBC experimenting with adding support directly inside iPlayer.

Check out BBC Together.

Medium tries to prevent people reading deleted articles on The Wayback Machine → #

Daniel Caffrey writing for Selected Intelligence:

I was recently trying to check a reference on an article I’d read on Medium about 2 years ago. It had been removed from Medium by its author. So I checked the link on The Wayback Machine and there were plenty of snapshots. However when I click on any of them I get immediately redirected to the Medium.com homepage.

I’m not exactly sure of the benefits for Medium with this, but it seems pretty aggressive to me.

#OpenWeb → #

Michael Rockwell, writer for Initial Charge, has come up with a fantastic new project, #OpenWeb:

I spent a few days over the past week working on a little project that’s been bouncing around in my head lately. I’ve wanted something like this to exist for years and with the skills I’ve obtained from Treehouse over the past several months, I thought it was finally time to build it myself. Today, I’d like to announce #OpenWeb.

The site aggregates headlines from independent publishers that focus on Apple products and software. It also serves as a directory of single-person weblogs within our community. Over the past few years, social networks have become less and less exciting to use and there have been some subtle indications that the open web is poised for a comeback. With Micro.blog, JSON Feed, the meteoric rise in podcasting, and the frustration that many of us have had with Twitter and Facebook — I think weblogs could be the next big thing.

The idea of a place to discover new bloggers, and to help push more independent writers (like myself), has always been something I’d liked to have.

There are 16 sources currently being fed into #OpenWeb, and I’m sure this will grow and be refined over time. But along with the combined feed of posts from these blogs, you can also find an .OPML file, which will allow you to add all of them to your RSS reader of your choice.

Obviously, I’m massively grateful that I was included as one of the sources! I’ll have to pay that back by trying to write better, and more often.

Check out #OpenWeb, and read Michael’s blog post introducing it.

Verge 3.0 #

The Verge has just gone over a massive overhaul and redesign, they call it Verge 3.0.

Nilay Patel (Editor-in-Chief), has written a big post which details the many changes, and updates to the underlying system which their blog resides.

I for one read The Verge a lot, and I really appreciate the diverse content they create. But I admit the website was becoming a bit clunky, and it always felt bloated to me.

They’ve made everything better, the loading speed, readability of the icon, the overall simplification of the website structure, and general brand design.

I really love it, and I urge you to read Nilay’s piece "Welcome to Verge 3.0".

There’s also a short video they made, which you can watch below or on YouTube: