Y Combinator Challenge #2 – Simplified Browsing

For more information about the Y Combinator Challenge, check out this post first 

2. Simplified browsing. There are a lot of cases where you’d trade some of the power of a web browser for greater simplicity. Grandparents and small children don’t want the full web; they want to communicate and share pictures and look things up. What viable ideas lie undiscovered in the space between a digital photo frame and a computer running Firefox? If you built one now, who else would use it besides grandparents and small children?

My Idea: The Jesus Browser

Remember when computers were big gray boxes with a bunch of cords hanging out the back of them?  And when cell phones were little black boxes with antennas sticking out?  And TVs were big or small, black or gray boxes with both cords and antennas attached?  Oh, how quaint and simple things were back then, before people realized the power of amazing design.  Good thing we all caught on to these trends and managed to learn from our past mistakes..especially with the most recent iterations of the popular web browsers!  Like IE’s black box with a text box and icons/menus at the top, and Firefox’s blue box with the text box and icons/menus at the top, and Safari’s…OK, OK, OK – you get the picture.

This idea is pretty hard to describe without images, but the basic idea is to create “the iPhone of browsers” aka a browser with a revolutionary new design that breaks the mold of the traditional box-with-text-input-on-top form factor.  I see this as having a modular design, and the user would have the ability to add or remove modules depending on the features and functionality they are looking for.  Here are a few of the specific features that would be a part of this new Jesus Browser:

  • The browser could be pre-configured by a more computer-savvy member of the family and sent via Email to a parent, grandparent, etc..  This user would open the message, click a button in the message to launch the one-click installer, and within minutes could have the full application installed, pre-configured, and ready to go.
  • The browser could be connected directly to a user’s Email account and would intelligently parse the user’s inbox for things like photos, messages from trusted contacts, etc..  These would be pulled out of the emails and displayed in separate modules directly within the browser’s main “canvas”.  Of course, the browser would notify the user when new content is available via simple icons and notification sounds.
  • Instead of having the main interface be a text box, the browser would display a Facebook-like activity stream.  This stream could be pre-configured to display news stories and links to articles that the user might be interested in.  In addition, other trusted users could push items to this stream.  For example, if I found an article I thought my grandma might like, I could tag it and it would automatically show up in her stream next time she logged on.
  • For text input, I’d actually not even bother putting a text box anywhere on the screen.  Instead, the user could simply start typing and a text box would pop up in the center of the interface.  At the bottom of this text box, there would be several different options, such as “Search” or “Send a Message”.  That way, a user wouldn’t have to go to the mouse, point to the correct spot on the interface, click the left mouse button, and start typing.  These are things that are intuitive for us, but can be very frustrating for new computer users.
  • Some other optional components: A family tree (connected on the back end to geni or something similar), a safe shopping widget (all products displayed would be from trusted e-commerce sites), instant messaging (could interface with the major IM clients, trillium style), and a social game widget (with customization for children based on age)

Got any additional modules or features you’d like to see on this one?  Post ’em if you’ve got ’em.


5 responses to “Y Combinator Challenge #2 – Simplified Browsing

  1. Why not just draw a mockup?

  2. Good write-up.

    I think the TV paradigm is the way to go. Cable-box complexity is probably within bounds. The stream could be presented on an analog to the program schedule channel.

    As to text input being blind on the first keystroke (no box visible), I think you’re off base there. Older, less computer literate users don’t trust any sort of blind input or auto-popup interfaces. They want to see the computer sitting there telling them it’s ready for their input.
    I agree with your reasons for not having to call up an input interface. But some visual cue showing the machine is ready and waiting is necessary for this class of users, IME.

  3. Thanks Mark – I’m still on the fence with the blind text input. You make a good point around needing very straightforward visual cues for novice users. The basic premise is actually a take on Mitch Kapor’s “Chandler” project, where a user could input freeform text and then “stamp” it as an Email, calendar event, task, etc.. I have a sense there’s something to that concept, just not sure what the secret sauce is to have it catch on as a mainstream interface.

  4. This thread seems to have died for some reason. I actually have very similar ideas regarding a customizable, simplified Internet browser. If anyone is interested in working out a prototype with me, please send email to Carl at ooper1@hotmail.com. Regards, /Carl

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