You’ve might not even have heard about the Sleipnir web browser before now. It’s built on the Blink engine by a Japanese company that seems to specialize in bold user interface experiments. One of these experiments, Site Updates, peaked my curiosity. Site Updates replaces the top-sites or speed dial functionality found on the new tab page in other browsers with a personalized news feed from your most visited websites.
The browser’s history contains a breadth of information about people’s preferences and interests. Most browsers use the info in the history databases to rank suggestions in the address field, and to display a list of top websites on their new tab page, or simply collect it for their own gains. Whereas most browsers put the most visited addresses up on their new tab page as nothing more than static screenshots or icons; Sleipnir does something more innovative in this space and automatically combines news stories from your most visited sites into an always updated news stream.
The news feed is limited to displaying one story from each of your most visited sites. Websites and blogs that publish less frequently can still surface amid sites that publish several articles per hour. Sleipnir randomly picks one of the five most recent stories published from each site. The news stories then appear in a random order every time the new tab page is loaded. Clicking on a news story will open it in that tab, and hide that story from reappearing on the new tab page later. However, Sleipnir isn’t smart enough to hide stories that appear in your browser history and that you’ve already read through other sources. This seems like something that could be easily fixed and would reinforce its role as a content discovery portal rather than a page that stupidly regurgitates stories you’ve already read.
Technically, Sleipnir looks for syndication feeds (Atom/RSS) using the standard feed auto-discovery method (shown below) at the root address for all the most visited websites in the browser’s history. This means that you’ll potentially get very targeted news stories from just the sections you want to read. For example, if you only read articles in the Web development section on Slight Future, Sleipnir can determine that the root address that you’re interested in as all articles are published under that root address. Sleipnir will find the first feed element on the page, which will be that section’s dedicated feed, and thus only retrieve articles from that section. This is a very powerful feature that can get targeted regarding what articles it will show people.
All parts of the feed discovery and processing happen locally on the user’s own computer without involving privacy-dubious middleware servers, and it’s all built-in top of open web standards.
Sleipnir’s feed parser isn’t the most sophisticated and unfortunately has a few [undocumented] requirements: It supports Atom 1 and RSS2, the content must contain an
<img> element with a 300×270 pixel or larger image, and all the HTML must be entity encoded. Unfortunately, many of the web’s popular websites and publishing platforms such as WordPress will output CDATA encapsulated HTML in their feeds rather than entity encoded HTML. Sleipnir requires an image but cannot retrieve OpenGraph or use other standard feature-image discovery methods. These requirements, unfortunately, mean a large portion of the web cannot ever appear in Site Updates even though they work with every other feed reader program. I found that about a third of my favorite websites don’t comply with these requirements, which had an unfortunate impact on the diversity in my news feed.
Site Updates can also optionally pull in links shared by your friends and news curators you follow on Twitter and Facebook. I haven’t found this nearly as useful nor as interesting as the main operating mode of auto-discovered news from my own favorite websites. People who use Twitter as a syndication platform for their favorite websites will find the feature more useful.
Site Updates is enabled by default in Sleipnir for Mac. On Sleipnir for Windows, you’ll need to enable the feature by changing the Preferences: Tabs: New Tab: New Tab option to “Site Updates”. (This shouldn’t be too surprising as the Sleipnir browser lacks polish, some English translations, and it’s bold user interface experiments sometimes leaves the product lacking essential functionality.) Sleipnir for Android, and iOS doesn’t have the feature; which makes sense as they’d want to keep mobile data consumption to a minimal.
This is an interesting, innovative, and until very recently an overlooked browser innovation. Sleipnir has had this special feature to itself for nearly three and a half years and only recently have the other browsers started to look into similar functionality. I’ll write more on the other browsers tomorrow – so be sure to subscribe!