Back in 2010 I wrote a really great book that didn’t get the sales I’d have liked: Mac OS X Snow Leopard for Power Users. Unfortunately, the book had the great fortune to come out just before Lion1 was announced, rendering it obsolete immediately (but hey, feel free to go ahead & buy a copy!). C’est la vie.

Someone mentioned SSBs on a mailing list I frequent, and it reminded me that my book contained an intro to the subject, which you can read below. Some information is out of date now, but it’s still a good overview of the idea.

SSBs: Site Specific Browsers

The web browser is probably the most important software tool developed in the last two decades. Over that time, web browsers have added new features that many now consider essential: tabs, auto-fill, and extensions, to name just a few. But sometimes the added features and complexity can actually get in the way of productivity, which is why there’s been a movement in the last couple of years to create SSBs—Site Specific Browsers (although I prefer defining them as Single Site Browsers myself).

An SSB is still a web browser at its core, but it’s a vastly simplified browser with the menus and toolbars removed, and instead of using it to visit any old website you wish, you use it for a specific, single site (hence the name!). In other words, instead of having Facebook open in one tab and Gmail open in another and TUAW open in still another, you’d create a Facebook SSB, and a Gmail SSB, and open those separately, like they are actual apps on your Mac. You would use the Facebook SSB only to access Facebook, and you would use the Gmail SSB only to access Gmail. You typically create SSBs for web apps—such as Facebook and Gmail—and not for websites, such as TUAW, or The New York Times, or Techmeme.

I know many of you reading this are thinking to yourself, “Why the heck would I use an SSB? Why don’t I just open Facebook or Gmail as a tab in my web browser of choice and use that?” There are actually very good reasons to consider using an SSB instead of a tab in your usual web browser:

  • Minimize distractions: Other tabs can distract you from your research and work. By segregating the web apps that tempt you and eat your time, you can get more done in your web browser. Think of this also as a separation of purpose—treat web apps like they’re apps that deserve their own program, and your web browser as a general- purpose device.
  • Web apps that act like desktop apps: Your SSB apps go in /Applications, just like every other app on your Mac (by and large). You can drag the SSB for Facebook to your Dock and launch it, or you can use Spotlight to search for the Gmail SSB. Basically, you launch your SSB like any other app, because to your Mac, your SSBs are just other apps.
  • Stability: If the SSB crashes or locks up, your regular web browsers keep on going, and vice versa.
  • Autostart favorite websites: If, after you log in to your Mac, you always open your web browser so you can see Gmail or another web app, then you can instead set your Gmail SSB to launch on log in (Apple > System Preferences > Accounts > Login Options).
  • Different accounts in different SSB apps: If you have to keep separate sets of credentials for work & personal accounts for web services, no need to log in and out repeatedly—just set up a Prism SSB for one of the accounts, and the passwords & cookies will stay as they need to be.

As you can see, there are substantial benefits to using SSBs. At the least, try one for yourself and see if it meets your needs. To give you some ideas, here are a few sites that work well as SSBs (besides Gmail and Facebook, since I already mentioned them):

Addendum to the book: Several of the following sites are dead (tech moves fast!). In those cases, I’m removed the hyperlinks.

Basically, any website that’s really a Web app makes a good candidate for an SSB. Think about the sites you visit every day and try them out using one of the SSB software tools that I’ll cover next.

  1. Lion was the successor to Snow Leopard, remember.