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Chrome extensions are powerful. I’m playing with TidyRead and Feedly among others on the developer edition of Chrome for Mac. TidyRead detects article pages and then removes everything but the text from the page with JavaScript modification of the DOM. Feedly reorganizes my Google Reader feeds into a beautiful UI. The Feedly FireFox version enables one click social sharing on Twitter, Facebook and others. Google Voice’s integration with Chrome, enabling calls to be made from the browser to your phone (and eventually through the computer itself with the Gizmo5 acquisition) is brilliantly effective and time saving.

Taking a look at my RescueTime data for the past 4 weeks, I found that I spend more than half my time on a computer in a browser. Another 25% of my time is spent in Entourage, an allocation that I would gladly move to a browser if Outlook had a halfway decent WebKit experience. I live in the browser – a result of rich web apps that have taken ten years to evolve from a myriad of new technologies all starting with Ajax.

As a result of the time we spend in them, browsers are evolving to be essential platforms for developers, an idea incubated by Mozilla but catapulted forward by Chrome. Google’s operating system dedicated to the web is the key element. Given these trends, I have been reflecting on what browsers might do in the future that they do not today.

In a few months, I expect two big new feature sets to come from browsers that have me very excited: 

  1. Social – it’s time for social to be integrated into the browser. Facebook Connect or OpenAuth single sign on integrated into the browser means true single sign on. Enter password when you boot your browser and then the rest of the web is unlocked. Single click sharing, effortless navigation and an entirely new experience of one, very important and secure password (or perhaps biometric authentication)
  2. Payments – one click payments across the web courtesy of a highly secure browser that holds credit cards in your local keychain. Or if Facebook Payments, Apple, Amazon or Paypal are forward thinking, payments will be delivered through the social integration in your browser.
By greasing the axles of user sign on and payments, the implications for micro-payments, e-commerce and advertising all all tremendous. Conversion rates will increase dramatically. Additionally, it will be essential for browsers to provide a seamless experience across platforms (mobile, pc, netbook, tablet, etc). When that is done, perhaps we will see further gilding of the coffers of internet merchants.

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4 thoughts on “The growing role of the browser

  1. Interesting post, and I agree that the browser is taking over the computing experience. I myself tend to prefer dedicated apps on a Mac, but there is no doubt the momentum is for browser based applications. I’m not holding my breath for single sign on, mainly because there are too many players trying to fight for it and not likely to play well together, i.e. Facebook vs. Google vs. iTunes. The latter has been less important as a social login, but given that iTunes has over 100 million accounts with payment information, I think it’s a sleeper for single sign on, especially related to purchasing. Also, your RescueTime link is broken (I’m a big fan myself, just upgraded to Pace to keep track of various projects).

  2. I agree with your point on the SSO fragmentation. I hope that the browser unifies these three systems: Apple, Facebook, and OpenAuth. And then I get to a seamless experience. As you wrote your comment, I was thinking that both Google and Apple own browsers, but Facebook does not. Might be an interesting area for a startup to play.

  3. have you ever looked into how unsecured your passwords are in your browser? not encrypted in either firefox or chrome last time i checked… Instead of having to sign in to a web app with every service from which I want to pull data, I’ve often wondered if it would be possible (technically and from consumer adoption) for a webapp to just query the browser for all of that information. It would be a nice way to easily pull all of my data that i’ve hidden in various silos across the internet (although this has become less and less of a problem since FB connect, I still can’t take my data from individual silos with me).

  4. You're right. FFX stores them in a text file. I thought Chrome did a better job, but may be not. A web app might do it well. It would be close to an oAuth type implementation, right? 

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