If you’re short on things to read — seriously? — be sure to check out the latest experiment in the Firefox Test Pilot program.
It’s called Advance and it aims to ‘advance’ you past the site you’re currently gawping at and on to the next. How? By giving you a list of articles and web pages based on your browsing history, of course.
Don’t scream. Honestly. This feature is not part of the default browser (not yet, anyway). You have to explicitly choose to enable it.
Firefox is a web browser, and the team behind it seem to want us to browse more of it, more often
But if you’re keen to do so, please advance on…
Advance is a new Firefox Test Pilot Experiment
Advance is a self-described “content discovery tool”. It works by adding a sidebar/panel to the Firefox that you can open/close while browsing the web, and filling it with links to related web content.
When the sidebar is open — you can use a toolbar icon to quickly toggle its state — you’ll see it’s divided in to two sections:
- Read Next — suggests websites and stories based on the URL of the current tab
- For You — uses your browsing history to recommend content you might be interested in
Advance uses the URL of the page you’re viewing to populate itself with a set of related stories gathered from around the web — stories it thinks you’ll want to read next.
So, for example, if you visit a website about Doctor Who, Advance will serve up a list of popular, recent news items related to the show:
You can mark these recommendations as “not interesting” or “off-topic/spam” to dismiss them from the queue without opening them up. You can also ‘block’ websites to put a halt to any and all content suggestions from that domain.
In some ways it’s like a creepy cross between StumbleUpon and the Google Feed (yes, I use Android) but inside the Firefox web-browser, updating itself while you surf the web, powered by a service you’ve never heard of.
Okay, that’s not technically true.
You might’ve heard of Laserlike if you’re into AI scene. That’s because the company uses “advanced machine learning and interest space modelling” to “connect users” with content.
Laserlike has its own search engine, its own weekly e-mail digest, and its own pair of (lovely-looking) apps for iOS and Android.
With the launch of this experiment, Mozilla is leveraging those Laserlike smarts in the Firefox web browser.
— but why?
Mozilla wants us to read more web content, I guess?
Mozilla Firefox is a web browser after all, and it seems the team behind it would love if it we’d all browse a bit more of it, a bit more often.
Firefox already boasts integration with Pocket, the “read it later” service Mozilla bought last year.
There are enough distractions online as it is; do I really need yet another reminder of things I haven’t read yet?
Pocket lets users ‘stash’ articles to read at a later date, and the data from people’s saves (i.e. the most popular content) is used (in part) to fill the “Highlights” section of the New Tab page with suggested articles.
Although using this data is a great way of surfacing content that’s broadly interesting, it’s not so great at surfacing content that is personally interesting to each specific user, i.e. you and me.
And it’s this personal approach that seems key to the experiment.
“The internet today is often like being on a guided tour bus in an unfamiliar city,” Mozilla muses in its introduction to the experiment.
“You end up getting off at the same places that everyone else does. While it’s convenient and doesn’t require a lot of planning, sometimes you want to get a little off the beaten path.”
Poetic, but sliiiightly missing the reason why most of us launch our web-browser: to get to a destination quickly, or to get from A to B. There are enough distractions online as it is — love ya’, Twitter — do I really need yet more reminders of things I haven’t gotten around to reading yet?
Now, before anyone screams “I already use this! It’s called Google Chrome!” let me stress that this is an entirely optional, opt-in feature for Firefox. You have to go out of your way to install it. It is not part of the default install. If you don’t want it, you don’t have to use it.
You remain in control when Advance is running. You can, at any point, see what browser history Laserlike has processed and — GDPR box check — request the deletion of that information.
Advance by Firefox limits its remit to your search history, specifically web page addresses. It doesn’t monitor what you write/say/do when using a website, or the specific content that’s on it.
And when you install the add-on you’re presented with the following reassuring blurb:
Thanks for using this add-on! It brings you the best stories related to your browsing. Laserlike only sees the URLs your visit, not the page content, and we don’t collect information that identifies you personally.
Try Advance by Firefox
If you’re running a fairly recent version of Firefox on Windows, macOS or Linux you can choose to opt-in and try the Advance experiment by visiting the Firefox Test Pilot site using the link below: