I think it was in 2017 that I first started using Onetab for my ever growing clutter of browser tabs. It was a very simple solution that enabled me to save and close multiple tabs. It also created a visible history of my internet browsing. I was able to dig into the past to find a site that I thought I had lost.
Things were good until one day my browser crashed and Onetab opened with none of my tabs saved. Everything was gone.
I continued using it after this bug, although I tried to remember to periodically export my bookmarks to keep them safe. Even so, the same thing happened a couple more times and I gave up on using OneTab forever. It didn’t do the most basic service it was created to do: save tabs.
At that point I decided to reinvent the wheel: I’d incorporate all the most desirable features of a tab manager but also make absolutely sure users would never lose their tabs unless they intentionally deleted them. And I’d make it work on the cloud, so that it would sync beautifully on different browsers and computers.
And I’d also design an interface to make it so much easier for users to quickly browse through their tabs.
With these lofty goals in mind I designed the prototype that I named Flowbar. And with the help of my developer friend, we published our first version of Flowbar in early 2019.
It wasn’t complete just yet. But with all those extra features we offered, we still got very good feedback from our first batch of users. I was also really surprised at how people quickly felt a part of it and they started sending us suggestions for how to improve Flowbar. Many people even asked us if they could donate some money to the project.
This was all really encouraging. But along with its enthusiastic reception came a greater sense of responsibility toward our users. Every bug report, every complaint from users brought a sense of urgency: I had to make Flowbar better and quickly. I believed that if our users were gracious enough to use my extension and I didn’t get it just right, then I was just letting them down.
So though I still had a full slate of freelance gigs and full time work, I was a man with a mission. I would find the time to address each and every many issue. I also brought my developer friend on board as a paid employee to fix bugs and add upgrades and new features.
In Sept 2019, I decided to address all the issues and start developing a considerably enhanced version of Flowbar. And after a year of development and testing, we at last launched the latest version of Flowbar.
Designing in the Dark
A considerable amount of users have requested a dark option, so I decided to change the default color to a darker palette for the new version. For years I’ve worked primarily at night and to keep the glare down, I often used extensions that switch sites into dark mode.
But I also knew that the main problem with using light text over dark backgrounds is eye strain caused by high contrast. To avoid that I went with the best of both worlds: a shade of gray for the main column and the rest of the screen in darker blue/purple tones. I may add an option to switch to a lighter palette in the future, if enough users request it.
Last version also had interface problems when viewed on mobile devices, we made it fully responsive for phones and tablets now.
We didn’t change the extension dropdown. You can still save all tabs at once into a designated folder (it’s labeled “General”) by clicking the first item in the dropdown: Quick Save All Tabs. (quick keys: Alt + V)
Or you can save them into a new folder which you can create by clicking on Save All Tabs as. The third save option, Save Selected Tabs, only saves tabs you have already selected (with Ctrl/Cmd + mouse click). These selected tabs also can be saved into a new or existing folder.
Better tab management
In the old version, users couldn’t create a new folder or group from the dashboard. I realized this was an essential feature…so we added it! Now you can organize tabs without having to use the extension dropdown.
Another new feature is the ability to create nested folders. This way users can group folders instead of filling the left panel with tons of them.
A new friend for your saved tabs
Another important improvement came from my wife. One day I saw her using Flowbar for her recipes. She said it would be great if she could add notes to her links, for writing down changes she made to recipes.
“Why not?”, I thought. I’m already using Flowbar to organize my stuff, I can also use it to organize my tasks or notes too since we have the structure in place.
The new note taking function is pretty basic in this version. But if people use it and want enhancements, I might add some, such as rich text capabilities.
Mark important stuff
Once you start using Flowbar daily, the number of saved links grows fast. Even though we now have nested folders and other features to help manage the clutter, it can still be overwhelming when you are looking for one particular, important link or note but can’t remember where you put it.
We’ve had a search option since the first version. But I thought marking important items to make them stand out better would be more practical then always having to use search. Now the Important column displays a folder’s important links right at the top. When you change folders, the top section switches to that folder’s important tabs. It’s like your pinned tabs…but inside the Flowbar dashboard.
The Dreaded Top Bar
When you bring your cursor close to the top edge of the browser screen a little handle comes down and clicking that opens the Top Bar.
Many users like to to open multiple windows. But when you have more than two windows open, things can get a little complicated, especially when you want to find a particular tab but don’t know which window has it.
Flowbar’s Top Bar feature makes it easy to open a group in a separate window and bring that window forward with a click! All you have to do is double click the group name and all the tabs under that group open inside a window. And just in case you have a lot of tabs in that group, and opening all of them at the same time slows down your computer, Flowbar will open the tabs but it won’t load them until you click on a particular tab.
Once a group is opened in a window, you will see the icon color change into green, to show you that it’s already open.
You can also see all open windows under the Open Windows dropdown. And if you want to pull that window to the top, just click on the name of the window and and it pops forward. No more moving windows on the screen to find the ones that you buried behind!
Initial reaction from users for this feature was not so positive. We tried to hide it to prevent disrupting users’ browsing actions, and only display it when the little drawer that appeared on top is clicked. But some people still found it disturbing.
We’ll decide to keep it or kill it in the near future based on users’ responses.
There are more features we’ve added, such as saving the pinned tabs as pinned or the ability to chose 2 column layouts.
And there’s another development as I write this: Users will soon be able to see their active sessions on the dashboard (live) and do all organization tasks from there, such as moving tabs between open windows, and saving them directly into folders and groups. We also will be adding an auto-save function in case your browser crashes to prevent losing unsaved tabs.
Edit: As of Nov. 15 we implemented the Active Windows feature where you can see all your open windows and tabs and organize things live from there. Our next release will include auto-save function.
The whole experience has been amazing showed me how challenging it can be to create a new product. Creators always want to make their work better, by developing and implementing new features but people might be just fine with what they’ve learned to use and are comfortable with. In this process I’ve come to understand that there’s a delicate balance between the desire to realize one’s vision and being sensitive to users’ requests & complaints. The takeaway lesson for me is this: Favoring one side too much is asking for failure.
So Flowbar project moves forward in its goal of providing a useful tool that is robust, yet streamlined enough to make it a great solution for managing the fast flow of information through our lives.
Please download and install Flowbar here. If you like it, please give us a positive review. If you encounter problems or have suggestions, please let us know in the feedback & bugs section in the dashboard.