Acid & Amazon Boxes
Examining the question: "Do we really need a new browser?"
Hello internet friends!
We just raised $13 million from the founders of Zoom, Stripe and Instagram, and one of our favorite journalists wrote a behind-the-scenes account of what we’ve been up to this past year.
But more than big names and big ideas, Victoria’s personal letter (below) best captures the spirit of what we are building and why. We hope you read on…
I know it’s been a while since Apple Pay started being a thing, but I still find it so pleasing.
Every time I press my phone to a reader to pay for something, I feel like my consciousness splits for a second and a phantom-me goes through the transaction in an alternate timeline. In that timeline, I’m fishing through my too-full tote bag and feel around for something wallet-shaped. Is this it? No, those are my keys… no, that’s a tampon. OK, uhh...did I forget my wallet? I start pulling things out of my bag and do some mental calculus on how to keep that tampon in the bag while I’m prying things out of it.
But that’s a phantom, and it vanishes in a second.
In this timeline, I just press my thumb on a circle on my phone, hold for a second, and I complete the payment.
Every time this happens, I think, Isn’t it nice that this is life now?
This is what draws me to technology. Sometimes, technology improving can feel like life itself is improving.
* * *
When we tell people we’re working on a browser, the first thing everyone asks is “Why? Does the world really need a new browser?”
About 15 years ago, the web already had Too Many Web Frameworks. People would grumble, “Ugh we already have MooTools, YUI, Ext JS, Prototype, Dojo … do we really need yet another?” And then jQuery took off, changed the internet forever, and became the de facto standard for web development.
“OK great, we’ve crowned the winner! We’re done! No more web libraries needed!”
...Except people kept making them. The groans followed. “Ugh do we need another WhateverJs? All of you are over-engineering!” Then React came along and changed the internet forever.
So whenever someone asks, “Do we really need another such-and-such?” The answer is almost always “probably.”This is because technology improves and improvement means change.
My colleague Ryan has a great way of describing it: When he gets a package, he has a habit of opening it and leaving the box on the floor for weeks. If he doesn't do something about it immediately, he'll just step around it for weeks like it's another piece of furniture, until one day he kicks it and realizes "oh wait, that's not supposed to be there." Technology is similar. When people get used to something, it becomes invisible.
“Why are there so many APIs and libraries and frameworks? Why do you keep making more of them?”
These are the questions you ask when you can’t see the boxes on the floor.
* * *
In the great tradition of the web, we too are building Yet Another, though not a UI library. (There are a lot.) Instead we’re building the browser itself.
Some folks think it’s so odd that we’re making a browser of all things, as opposed to literally anything else. “Sure, everything can be improved upon, but is there really that much you can change in a browser? Tabs I guess? What else?”
If you think we’re “playing around with tabs,” you probably don’t get what a browser is and you shouldn’t feel bad about that. To people who haven’t built a browser, it’s not obvious how vast and weird and exciting the browser really is.
It’s a little hard to explain, though. Every analogy we’ve tried to come up with to describe the browser hasn’t been quite right. Building blocks? Nah. Tools? Not exactly. A blank sheet of paper? A ship sailing through the internet?
The best analogy we’ve got is actually not about a browser at all — it’s about recreational drugs. An engineer I knew in San Francisco, the “goes to Burning Man” type, was trying to explain to me why he liked drugs.
Before drugs, my friend assumed his eyes would always work like… well, eyes! Everyone’s eyes are different of course, some people can see better than others, some people are blind or visually impaired in some way, but he had assumed that eyes generally acted within the bounds of some laws set by the universe. Eyes were a thing that absorbed the world to the best of their ability and reported back to the brain as honestly as they could.
Then he did acid and entered another dimension for a bit.
When he came back, his understanding of reality had been toppled. He was like, “Wait, how did my body even do that? What is reality?! What are eyes?!”
He hadn’t realized he had been living under assumptions about the axioms of the universe, but these false pillars became visible in their acid-induced shattering. If all it took was some chemical cajoling for his eyes and senses to transport him to another planet, what were the actual rules? Are there rules, or are there only defaults? What other invisible false pillars was he living his life by?
And this is why he liked recreational drugs — because he could explore and challenge and unlock a new relationship with reality.
Though my friend didn’t quite put it that way. The way he phrased it to me was, “When I do acid, it’s like messing with the operating system for humans.”
This is why we’re so breathlessly excited to be building a browser. If the human body is the vessel to the universe, the browser is the vessel to the internet. It comprises so much of what we consider “using a computer.” It shapes so much of our perception of what is technologically possible. When you start changing the browser, you have the ability to fundamentally change humanity’s relationship with technology itself.
* * *
This week as we announce our Series A, we wanted to introduce ourselves. We’re The Browser Company and, as you might expect, we’re creating a browser! But we’re also not just creating a browser, we are picking up the invisible boxes off the floor and turning the phantoms of a better future into reality.
In all of our endeavors — be it our APIs, our design system, our infrastructure, our community, our browser, or whatever comes after next — we want to build things that make people think, Gosh, isn’t it nice that this is life now?
PS: We’re creating a Platform team. Join us!