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<p>A month ago, I built a <a href="/posts/monocle/">personal search engine called <em>Monocle</em></a> that let me search through a trove of personal information I’ve saved over time, from notes to journal entries to bookmarks and tweets. Shortly thereafter, I switched my default search engine in my web browser from Google to Monocle, marking the start of my slow descent into the fascinating rabbit hole that is transmogrifying my web browser into my best, most flexible, most versatile tool for thinking, learning, and remembering.</p>
<p>A month ago, I built a <a href="https://thesephist.com/posts/monocle/">personal search engine called <em>Monocle</em></a> that let me search through a trove of personal information I’ve saved over time, from notes to journal entries to bookmarks and tweets. Shortly thereafter, I switched my default search engine in my web browser from Google to Monocle, marking the start of my slow descent into the fascinating rabbit hole that is transmogrifying my web browser into my best, most flexible, most versatile tool for thinking, learning, and remembering.</p>
<p>A couple of weeks later, I built and started using <a href="https://github.com/thesephist/revery">Revery</a>, a browser extension that shows quick summaries and topically related notes and bookmarks from my collection whenever I’m reading anything on the Web.</p>
<p><img src="https://thesephist.com/img/revery-devices.png" alt="Revery running on an iPad and a laptop"></p>
<p>Living with these small bits of customization and intelligence scattered throughout my browser, I’m increasingly convinced that <strong>the future of the web browser is the best tool – nay, <em>medium</em> – for thought</strong>.</p>
@@ -89,12 +89,12 @@
<p>As with any dichotomy, there are grey areas. Powerful, effective tools can become mediums and enablers too. The graphical computer user interface wasn’t just a better way to write scientific simulations or data processing systems – it also became a new medium for creative work. Programming languages began history as a more efficient way to store and maintain punchcard programs, but a half-century of innovation has made it a medium for expressing programs that couldn’t be written before.</p>
</blockquote>
<p>Despite the renewed focus I see in the community of people and companies trying to build better tools for thought, I think much of our work is still confined to tool-making. That is, most of our efforts are about creating more automatic, more efficient ways to do what we already know how to do – spaced repetition, Zettelkasten, journaling, and so on. <strong>We are busy making more effective command-line apps for thought, rather than dreaming up graphical interfaces.</strong></p>
<p>Building a tool is a relatively straightforward affair. We can look around at existing workflows and needs that people have, and design some set of features <a href="/posts/tools/">around the workflows</a> and needs that we observe.</p>
<p>Building a tool is a relatively straightforward affair. We can look around at existing workflows and needs that people have, and design some set of features <a href="https://thesephist.com/posts/tools/">around the workflows</a> and needs that we observe.</p>
<p>However, to build an enabling medium that’s more than a single-purpose tool, it isn’t simply enough to look at existing workflows and build tools around them. To design a good creative medium, we can’t solve for a particular use case. <strong>The best mediums are instead collections of generic, multi-purpose <em>components</em> that mesh together well</strong> to let the user construct their own solutions. For example, Microsoft Excel is ostensibly a tool for calculation, but it’s also a medium for manipulating data in a 2-D grid for lots of other use cases, from organizing a budget to collecting a poll to even creating simple graphics. This flexibility comes from the fact that Excel is really just composed of a few powerful primitive components: the 2-D grid of cells, formulas that can reference other cells, and a responsive programming model that lets the whole table change anytime a value somewhere changes.</p>
<p>Designing a <em>medium for thought</em> requires that we discover what these primitive components of a thinking medium should be. Should there be some sense of <a href="https://darkblueheaven.com/spatialsoftware/">geometry and space</a>? How important should text be, against drawings and images? How should people collaborate and share their thoughts? I propose that the solution to these questions are not an opinionated tool with a “Share” button and a rigid way to use an image in a project, but something with a <em>collection of capabilities</em> that happen to include inserting and positioning text and images, sharing and collaborating on those objects on the page, and connecting ideas. These capabilities should work well together, to leave room for any combination of use cases. The line here can be blurry, so I don’t think it’s worthwhile to argue whether any particular tool is a good tool or a good medium, but in the future, I want to see more mediums like Excel, Google Docs, and Figma that seem like multi-purpose canvases that leave room for creativity, and fewer tools like Zoom, Slack, and of course the venerable web browser of today that lock you into particular use cases and make you feel like you need to “learn how to use” the thing.</p>
<p>The current state web browsers is particularly damning from this perspective. Web browsers have access to such a treasure trove of valuable, often well-structured information about what we learn and how we think, what interests we have, and who we talk to. Rather than trying to take that information and let us build workflows out of them, browsers remain a strictly utilitarian tool – a rectangular window into documents and apps that play dumb, ignorant of the valuable information that transits through them every day. I think we can do better.</p>

<p>Once I started using my personal search engine, <em>Monocle</em>, day-to-day, I made an observation about how Monocle seemed different than most of my other software tools. I wrote on my <a href="/#newsletter">newsletter</a>:</p>
<p>Once I started using my personal search engine, <em>Monocle</em>, day-to-day, I made an observation about how Monocle seemed different than most of my other software tools. I wrote on my <a href="https://thesephist.com/#newsletter">newsletter</a>:</p>
<blockquote>
<p>Every productivity app company these days seems to embrace the phrase “second brain,” as in “make X app your second brain.” One of my big takeaways from using Monocle on a daily basis for the last week has been that <strong>no single app can be my second brain</strong>. There are going to be parts of my life that are inherently spread out across different apps. For example, there’s a huge amount of knowledge sitting in my email inbox and my blog, and there are some things I only remember because I tweeted about it once, or recorded in a quick journal entry. There are ideas saved in text messages and contacts. “Notes apps,” it turns out, are not the only places where knowledge lives. And a true “second brain”, or whatever you want to call it, needs to recognize that and let you wield its magic over all of your digital footprint.</p>
</blockquote>
@@ -113,7 +113,7 @@
<li>Provides a quick <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Automatic_summarization">extractive summary</a> of long articles for me to scan before I decide to spend time reading the rest of the page.</li>
</ul>
<p>In addition, Revery could in the future pick out important keywords and topics from the page and automatically search my search engine for them, or help me spot key people and places I know that appear on the page.</p>
<p>Because all of these experiments are grounded in my web browser rather than any particular application, these tricks and workflows work on any website, including other notes applications. I could visit my <a href="/posts/ideaflow/">Ideaflow</a> notes or someone else’s Roam graph and take advantage of these capabilities of my browser just as easily. It’s not that far-fetched to imagine a scenario in which I visit a well-connected Roam graph, and realize that my browser has made just as many connections between their notes and my notes as the author of the Roam notes have across their information.</p>
<p>Because all of these experiments are grounded in my web browser rather than any particular application, these tricks and workflows work on any website, including other notes applications. I could visit my <a href="https://thesephist.com/posts/ideaflow/">Ideaflow</a> notes or someone else’s Roam graph and take advantage of these capabilities of my browser just as easily. It’s not that far-fetched to imagine a scenario in which I visit a well-connected Roam graph, and realize that my browser has made just as many connections between their notes and my notes as the author of the Roam notes have across their information.</p>
<p>If we were to build a medium for better thinking on top of the web browser, it’s reckless to expect the average user to manually connect, organize, and annotate the information they come across. Just as the early World Wide Web started out manually-curated and eventually became curated by algorithms and communities, I think we’ll see a shift in how individual personal landscapes of information are curated, from manual organization to mostly machine-driven organization. Humans will leave connections and highlights as a trail of their thinking, rather than as their primary way of exploring their knowledge and memory.</p>
<p>In the browser of the future, the boundary between my personal information and the wider Web’s information landscape will blur, and a smarter, more literate browser will help me navigate both worlds with a deeper understanding of what I’m thinking about and what I want to discover. It’ll remind me of relevant bookmarks when I’m taking lecture notes; it’ll summarize and pick out interesting details from long news articles for me; it’ll let me search across the Web and my personal data to remember more and learn faster.</p>
<h2 id="a-web-browser-for-thoughts-not-documents-or-apps">A web browser for thoughts, not documents or apps</h2>

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url: https://thesephist.com/posts/browser/
hash_url: ed384fc76fbe9728070efb6c71a0eb9c

<p>A month ago, I built a <a href="/posts/monocle/">personal search engine called <em>Monocle</em></a> that let me search through a trove of personal information I’ve saved over time, from notes to journal entries to bookmarks and tweets. Shortly thereafter, I switched my default search engine in my web browser from Google to Monocle, marking the start of my slow descent into the fascinating rabbit hole that is transmogrifying my web browser into my best, most flexible, most versatile tool for thinking, learning, and remembering.</p>
<p>A month ago, I built a <a href="https://thesephist.com/posts/monocle/">personal search engine called <em>Monocle</em></a> that let me search through a trove of personal information I’ve saved over time, from notes to journal entries to bookmarks and tweets. Shortly thereafter, I switched my default search engine in my web browser from Google to Monocle, marking the start of my slow descent into the fascinating rabbit hole that is transmogrifying my web browser into my best, most flexible, most versatile tool for thinking, learning, and remembering.</p>
<p>A couple of weeks later, I built and started using <a href="https://github.com/thesephist/revery">Revery</a>, a browser extension that shows quick summaries and topically related notes and bookmarks from my collection whenever I’m reading anything on the Web.</p>
<p><img src="https://thesephist.com/img/revery-devices.png" alt="Revery running on an iPad and a laptop"></p>
<p>Living with these small bits of customization and intelligence scattered throughout my browser, I’m increasingly convinced that <strong>the future of the web browser is the best tool – nay, <em>medium</em> – for thought</strong>.</p>
@@ -20,12 +20,12 @@ hash_url: ed384fc76fbe9728070efb6c71a0eb9c
<p>As with any dichotomy, there are grey areas. Powerful, effective tools can become mediums and enablers too. The graphical computer user interface wasn’t just a better way to write scientific simulations or data processing systems – it also became a new medium for creative work. Programming languages began history as a more efficient way to store and maintain punchcard programs, but a half-century of innovation has made it a medium for expressing programs that couldn’t be written before.</p>
</blockquote>
<p>Despite the renewed focus I see in the community of people and companies trying to build better tools for thought, I think much of our work is still confined to tool-making. That is, most of our efforts are about creating more automatic, more efficient ways to do what we already know how to do – spaced repetition, Zettelkasten, journaling, and so on. <strong>We are busy making more effective command-line apps for thought, rather than dreaming up graphical interfaces.</strong></p>
<p>Building a tool is a relatively straightforward affair. We can look around at existing workflows and needs that people have, and design some set of features <a href="/posts/tools/">around the workflows</a> and needs that we observe.</p>
<p>Building a tool is a relatively straightforward affair. We can look around at existing workflows and needs that people have, and design some set of features <a href="https://thesephist.com/posts/tools/">around the workflows</a> and needs that we observe.</p>
<p>However, to build an enabling medium that’s more than a single-purpose tool, it isn’t simply enough to look at existing workflows and build tools around them. To design a good creative medium, we can’t solve for a particular use case. <strong>The best mediums are instead collections of generic, multi-purpose <em>components</em> that mesh together well</strong> to let the user construct their own solutions. For example, Microsoft Excel is ostensibly a tool for calculation, but it’s also a medium for manipulating data in a 2-D grid for lots of other use cases, from organizing a budget to collecting a poll to even creating simple graphics. This flexibility comes from the fact that Excel is really just composed of a few powerful primitive components: the 2-D grid of cells, formulas that can reference other cells, and a responsive programming model that lets the whole table change anytime a value somewhere changes.</p>
<p>Designing a <em>medium for thought</em> requires that we discover what these primitive components of a thinking medium should be. Should there be some sense of <a href="https://darkblueheaven.com/spatialsoftware/">geometry and space</a>? How important should text be, against drawings and images? How should people collaborate and share their thoughts? I propose that the solution to these questions are not an opinionated tool with a “Share” button and a rigid way to use an image in a project, but something with a <em>collection of capabilities</em> that happen to include inserting and positioning text and images, sharing and collaborating on those objects on the page, and connecting ideas. These capabilities should work well together, to leave room for any combination of use cases. The line here can be blurry, so I don’t think it’s worthwhile to argue whether any particular tool is a good tool or a good medium, but in the future, I want to see more mediums like Excel, Google Docs, and Figma that seem like multi-purpose canvases that leave room for creativity, and fewer tools like Zoom, Slack, and of course the venerable web browser of today that lock you into particular use cases and make you feel like you need to “learn how to use” the thing.</p>
<p>The current state web browsers is particularly damning from this perspective. Web browsers have access to such a treasure trove of valuable, often well-structured information about what we learn and how we think, what interests we have, and who we talk to. Rather than trying to take that information and let us build workflows out of them, browsers remain a strictly utilitarian tool – a rectangular window into documents and apps that play dumb, ignorant of the valuable information that transits through them every day. I think we can do better.</p>

<p>Once I started using my personal search engine, <em>Monocle</em>, day-to-day, I made an observation about how Monocle seemed different than most of my other software tools. I wrote on my <a href="/#newsletter">newsletter</a>:</p>
<p>Once I started using my personal search engine, <em>Monocle</em>, day-to-day, I made an observation about how Monocle seemed different than most of my other software tools. I wrote on my <a href="https://thesephist.com/#newsletter">newsletter</a>:</p>
<blockquote>
<p>Every productivity app company these days seems to embrace the phrase “second brain,” as in “make X app your second brain.” One of my big takeaways from using Monocle on a daily basis for the last week has been that <strong>no single app can be my second brain</strong>. There are going to be parts of my life that are inherently spread out across different apps. For example, there’s a huge amount of knowledge sitting in my email inbox and my blog, and there are some things I only remember because I tweeted about it once, or recorded in a quick journal entry. There are ideas saved in text messages and contacts. “Notes apps,” it turns out, are not the only places where knowledge lives. And a true “second brain”, or whatever you want to call it, needs to recognize that and let you wield its magic over all of your digital footprint.</p>
</blockquote>
@@ -44,7 +44,7 @@ hash_url: ed384fc76fbe9728070efb6c71a0eb9c
<li>Provides a quick <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Automatic_summarization">extractive summary</a> of long articles for me to scan before I decide to spend time reading the rest of the page.</li>
</ul>
<p>In addition, Revery could in the future pick out important keywords and topics from the page and automatically search my search engine for them, or help me spot key people and places I know that appear on the page.</p>
<p>Because all of these experiments are grounded in my web browser rather than any particular application, these tricks and workflows work on any website, including other notes applications. I could visit my <a href="/posts/ideaflow/">Ideaflow</a> notes or someone else’s Roam graph and take advantage of these capabilities of my browser just as easily. It’s not that far-fetched to imagine a scenario in which I visit a well-connected Roam graph, and realize that my browser has made just as many connections between their notes and my notes as the author of the Roam notes have across their information.</p>
<p>Because all of these experiments are grounded in my web browser rather than any particular application, these tricks and workflows work on any website, including other notes applications. I could visit my <a href="https://thesephist.com/posts/ideaflow/">Ideaflow</a> notes or someone else’s Roam graph and take advantage of these capabilities of my browser just as easily. It’s not that far-fetched to imagine a scenario in which I visit a well-connected Roam graph, and realize that my browser has made just as many connections between their notes and my notes as the author of the Roam notes have across their information.</p>
<p>If we were to build a medium for better thinking on top of the web browser, it’s reckless to expect the average user to manually connect, organize, and annotate the information they come across. Just as the early World Wide Web started out manually-curated and eventually became curated by algorithms and communities, I think we’ll see a shift in how individual personal landscapes of information are curated, from manual organization to mostly machine-driven organization. Humans will leave connections and highlights as a trail of their thinking, rather than as their primary way of exploring their knowledge and memory.</p>
<p>In the browser of the future, the boundary between my personal information and the wider Web’s information landscape will blur, and a smarter, more literate browser will help me navigate both worlds with a deeper understanding of what I’m thinking about and what I want to discover. It’ll remind me of relevant bookmarks when I’m taking lecture notes; it’ll summarize and pick out interesting details from long news articles for me; it’ll let me search across the Web and my personal data to remember more and learn faster.</p>
<h2 id="a-web-browser-for-thoughts-not-documents-or-apps">A web browser for thoughts, not documents or apps</h2>

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