Speed dials, in one form or the other, has become the norm in modern browsers. Opera invented the feature, and it has since then been adopted by Chrome, Safari, and Internet Explorer. One browser that has been missing this feature is Firefox. However, that might be about to change.
Mozilla has announced a new Labs initiative called Prospector. Mozilla is attempting to take speed dials to the next level by making it context aware. The Prospector extension adds predictive speed dials, which lists bookmarks and previously visited webpages that it feels are relevant to the webpage you are currently browsing. In short, it tries to guess which website you are most likely to browse next.
Firefox searches both your bookmarks and history for similar websites that you may be interested in based on what you were recently browsing. This is currently displayed along with some experimental statistics such as score (which is how similar the tags are), frequency (which is a measure of frequency and recency) and others.
All the computation required for the predictive speed dial is done locally, and no data is sent out by your browser. Mozilla says that a well maintained and tagged set of bookmarks will help Firefox is throwing up more relevant results; however, it is not essential.
While the idea behind Predictive Newtab is undoubtedly interesting, it’s impossible to say how well it works without testing it for a few days. Opera’s speed dial concept works as well as it does because it is simple. Most people have a dozen websites that they visit really frequently, and Opera allows users to set those websites as speed dials. Chrome tries to do this automatically by relying on frequency count to cull a list of most visited websites. Firefox is trying to rank websites based on frequency and relevance. However, without a well maintained set of tagged bookmarks (or crowdsourcing), determining relevance can be a hard thing. Additional indicators like meta-tags can be considered; however, Firefox doesn’t appear to be doing that. Moreover, relevance often doesn’t have anything to do with the next website that I am likely to browse. The fact that I currently have a Gmail tab open doesn’t necessarily imply that I am going to browse Yahoo Mail or Hotmail next.
You can go ahead and download the Prospector extension from here. Don’t forget to share your experience with the Prospector extension. If Mozilla’s experiment succeeds, then Predictive Newtab could very well show up in future versions of Firefox.