Omar Rizwan has created TabFS — "a browser extension that mounts your browser tabs as a filesystem on your computer."
It's an extremely cool idea. Anything in your browser becomes a file on your computer, which you can parse or crunch or index. Change the file, and you can change what's in the browser, too. As Omar notes on his page for the project …
This gives you a ton of power, because now you can apply all the existing tools on your computer that already know how to deal with files — terminal commands, scripting languages, etc — and use them to control and communicate with your browser.
As some examples of what's possible, Omar points out that you could write very simple scripts to, say, grab the text from your open tabs, or close particular tabs based on some ruleset (close all open tabs from Boing Boing! or ones that have "cat" in their name!)
TabFS is just an experimental project right now. But if it (or something like it) were to become stable and reliable, it'd open up a fascinating new area for developers to create applications that ride on top, giving us cool new ways to manage info we encounter via the browser.
Obviously, we already have oodles of browser extensions available. But these live somewhat apart from one's file system. By putting the chocolate in the peanut butter — blending the file system more directly with one's tabs — TabFS makes it far easier to hack browser contents. After all, programmers already have a massive set of tools for making nifty use of stuff that's in your file system.
What's weird, really, is the opposite: How impoverished is the ecosystem of tools for working with our tabs — as Anil Dash wrote in this super insightful post about TabFS:
As Rusty Foster shows us (hey, Today in Tabs is back!), "tabs" can be a metaphor for the role that content plays in our lives, a shorthand way of saying media or content or hot takes. And what Omar's work shows us is that tabs are every bit as important to us as any individual app on our phones, or any particular document that we've created. Suddenly, we realize that not being able to actively manage and orchestrate tabs is an egregious shortcoming. How is it that the only thing we've been able to do with a tab is to file it away as a bookmark that we'll never revisit?
Now, the floodgates are open. Aside from an easier install process, the immediate feature request I had for tabs hackers is that any text-editing area in a web page (like the one I'm using to write this blog post!) should be presented as a text file within that tab's folder on my computer. Then, we don't have to do complex gymnastics to shoehorn a text editor into the web browser — I can just use the text editor I've already got on my machine.
I think another reason we've tolerated browsers being so underpowered — so bereft of tools for helping us work with tab-stuff — is that we've kind of been in denial about how much people use browsers.
They're used a ton! Particularly at any sort of industrialized day-job that requires using the Internet. (I wrote about this for Wired a few years back.) But the omnipresence of the desktop browser was (I'd argue) mostly ignored for a decade or more after the smartphone emerged in the late 00s. For a long while, all the growth was in mobile users of the Internet, so the route to software success was through a mobile app store. And for truly mass applications, where you're aiming at the whole planet, a big chunk of people have no laptop or desktop at all. So — quite understandably — that's where a ton of creative energy went: Into mobile apps. Thinking about desktop/laptop browsers was a backwater for a long while.
I'll be super interested to see how this area develops, though. I'm going to install TabFS on my Mac now and tinker around with writing some scripts …