Site Specific Browers

Recent posts from Zach Lipton and Robert O’Callahan share a common theme: Give web applications better integration into the desktop.

I have a strong interest in this area myself. A while ago I came across a desktop application for the Mac called Pryo. It’s an application with an embedded browser designed to work exclusively with a single web application: Campfire (a web-based IM service from 37Signals). Pryo allows for many things that are either difficult or impossible for Campfire to do on its own. The guys behind Pryo call it a Site Specific Browser. There is even a Windows clone in the works.

Zach provides a simple proposal for “appifying” Firefox for specific sites. I am wondering if a Firefox extension couldn’t be used to test out some of these features. Instead of a <meta/> tag, I was thinking of a <link/> to some sort of manifest file. The manifest could specify how to modify the Firefox UI to be more site specific as well as setup desktop shortcuts. Of course, the user should be in full control of allowing any of this to happen. Preferences would control a site’s ability to “appify” itself and the user should be able to revert back to the “non-appified” version of the site.

Site specific browsers could be the Next Big Thing with Ajax applications appearing faster than rabbits. Seems like TechCrunch has 2 or 3 new web applications popping up everyday. Better desktop integration would definitely enhance the user experience.

5 Comments

  1. Elmo said,

    November 17, 2006 @ 6:43 pm

    Many years ago, when the world was a much hotter place (“Summer In the City” may not have been written about Houston but the shoe fits) Elmo asked a site admin why his site only supported Internet Exploder and the response included the phrase “you open source loser”. That tickles Elmo now.

  2. Rafael said,

    December 1, 2006 @ 7:48 am

    There’s actually a bunch of these, and more on the way. The biggest example is iTunes which is essentially a site specific browser for iTunes store.

    It’s not necessarily the next big thing because only a handful of site specific or vertical clients make sense.

  3. Mark Finkle said,

    December 1, 2006 @ 9:24 pm

    Rafael,

    I don’t know that I agree with you about “only a handful … make sense”. That is like saying, since iTunes exists, we don’t need any other site specific media applications. I don’t believe that’s the case.

  4. Matt Brindley said,

    December 5, 2006 @ 5:53 pm

    Hey,

    I built the Windows version of Pyro, Flare. I agree Mark, I think there’s a whole bunch of web apps that could easily extend some functionality onto the desktop.
    I’ve found that web apps that increase their power users’ productivity by extending it to the desktop are far more effective than simply bringing parts of the web app to the desktop.

    An obvious example would be GMail. If you use your email throughout the day (making you, in this example, a power user) a web application can quickly become unsuitable – however if you only check once per day or even less, an SSB becomes just another step to get your email.

    This is why I believe applications such as IDEs are not appropriate for a web application. What IDE user is not a power user?

    – Matt

  5. Mark Finkle said,

    December 5, 2006 @ 7:25 pm

    Matt – I agree with your reasoning for SSB suitability. In addition to GMail (or perhaps even better) is Google Docs and Spreadsheets. I think desktop integration there would be more valuable. There could be so many more “power user” tasks that an SSB could simplify.

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