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Visual History Delinearize your browser » Joel Gustafson

Modern browsers lose rich information when they compress browsing history into a linear stack, which makes backtracking from a forest of links surprisingly difficult. We can do better.


Visual History is a Chrome extension in collaboration with Kenny Friedman that delinearizes your browsing history with a richer alternative to the Back and Forward buttons. Instead of a stack of previously visited destinations, Visual History maintains the forest of trees that represent each tabs path around the internet, and lets you easily backtrack to any site youve recently visited.

This solves an ancient problem with Wikipedia.


Back and Forward buttons are simple and convenient, but the underlying history stack is a terrible model for navigation. Websites arent stops on a subway line; theyre nodes in a connected graph. Even within this graph, we rarely just wander down one winding path: we backtrack from articles to homepages, from links to search results, and from threads to forums. The internet is a graph, and we tend to browse hierarchically.

But browsers make hierarchical navigation very difficult. Going back to a page of search results and down to a sibling link destroys the original link in the back/forward stack. This is bad for a couple reasons:

That second effect is subtle. Tabs organize content categorically. That is the tab metaphor. But more often than not, browsers reduce tabs to a scattered breadcrumb trail of abandoned siblings - links that we popped open because it was inconvenient (or dangerous) to navigate to them directly. These new tabs dont have any idea where they are in the internet - we cant go back from them, and we sometimes forget how we got there in the first place - but dammit, at least we can Ctrl-Tab between them quickly! Not only is this both computationally and spatially wasteful, its also confusing and antipattern. Its just bad design.


Navigate around the graph by clicking the graph icon in the toolbar, or by using Ctrl + arrow key (or Cmd + arrow key for Mac) shortcuts. When Ctrl (or Cmd) is released, Chrome will navigate to whichever node is currently selected.


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