Raven: Site-Specific Browsing Like You’ve Never Seen It

A site-specific browser allows you to have the convenience of a dedicated desktop app wrapped around a website. You’ve seen these before and might even have a few Fluid or Prism apps sitting in your dock. Even so, you’ve never seen an app quite like Raven before.

This innovative browser attempts to be an all-in-one hub that turns your favorite sites into custom apps that sit in a sidebar. So what happens when a site-specific browser allows you to browse and save multiple sites? Does it become just a regular browser or something new and amazing? Read on to find out.

What Is Raven?

As I explained in the introduction, Raven is likely quite unlike any browser you’ve ever used. It’s hard to nail down specifically what it is because it defies its own ideas. It claims to be a site-specific browser, but it allows you to view, browse and save as many sites as you want, which seems closer to typical browser behavior than something truly site-specific.

I would say that Raven attempts to bring an improved experience to a fairly small handful of sites and services that you access daily. If you like your current browser, you can keep it and just use Raven for a few select purposes. If not, you could use it as your primary browser. To see how this makes sense, let’s dive right in.

A New Kind of Browser

When you open Raven, you’ll immediately notice that it doesn’t look like your typical browser. In fact, it uses the increasingly popular darkened icon sidebar UI pattern made famous by Twitter for Mac. This pattern has been applied to everything from email applications to RSS readers, so why not a browser?

screenshot

The Raven Google Home Page

The home page shown above is basically a custom Google skin with a nice little tribute to Steve Jobs thrown in at the bottom. Just about everything else you see brings up questions though so let’s run through the features and UI areas one at a time.

Smart Bar: Raven App

Raven’s big claim to fame is the “Smart Bar,” which is the Twitter-like bar down the left side of the application. This bar holds custom versions of web applications that are conceptually very similar to Chrome apps.

The app that sits at the top of this bar (cloud icon) is the “Raven app.” This is basically the web browser, which is divided into four sub-sections each represented by a minimal icon.

The house is the main browser shown in the screenshot above. You can basically browse the web just like in any other browser here. Type in a URL, use back and forth buttons, and access the following menu items.

screenshot

Menu Items

In addition to this there is a clock, which takes you to your web history, the star, which shows you favorites and bookmarks, and the down arrow, which is where you manage your downloads.

Favorites/Bookmarks

screenshot

Saving a Favorite or Bookmark

What’s the difference between a favorite and a bookmark? With other browsers, the solution isn’t clear but Raven seeks to answer this conundrum with some simple logic: Favorites are sites that you access every day and Bookmarks are pages that you want to come back to later.

screenshot

Favorites/Bookmarks menu

Raven keeps Bookmarks and Favorites together, but in different tabs. Clicking on a favorite or bookmark brings up that page but also keeps the favorites menu open in a Reeder like multi-panel interface.

Here you also have the option to view the page in a simplified text-only format and/or send the page to Instapaper.

Other Apps

Up to this point, Raven has just been a pretty normal browser, but we haven’t even touched on the major premise of the app, which is dedicated site-specific applications.

screenshot

Web App Shop

Much like the Chrome Web Store, the Raven Web App Shop contains tiny apps that were built just for this browser. As you can see above, there are already a handful of popular options available with many more sure to come. The page claims that they are working on their app submission process so I imagine developers and/or users will soon be able to submit their own.

There’s not really much to a Raven app. Really, it’s just a group of sidebar icons connected to specific URLs. For instance, here’s a look at the Dropbox app:

screenshot

The Dropbox Raven App

There’s nothing here that you can’t get by visiting the Dropbox website. Each of those buttons merely takes you to a page that already existed before Raven even came around. However, there’s something extremely convenient about having a custom navigation menu for your favorite services built right into your browser.

There are quite a few social options that I immediately found useful. Of course you have big players like Facebook and Twitter but there are even some smaller networks like Dribbble, which I really love.

screenshot

The Dribbble Raven App

In this way Raven becomes a nice little social network aggregator that is already better than most other apps in that niche!

Much I Marvelled This Ungainly Fowl

Like Poe puzzling over the ebony bird perched above his chamber door, Raven proved quite confusing to me at first. The app’s site is gorgeous and the UI is really slick, so I had to download it and give it a shot. However, I didn’t really expect to like it. I have too many browsers as it is and am just fine using Fluid for site-specific app builds. Further, I was wrapped up in the confusion of not quite knowing what the app was really for versus a typical browser.

However, then I started to use it and something strange happened. I really enjoyed it. I didn’t need to wrap my head around an explanation for its purpose anymore but instead just instinctively knew what to use it for.

I am a fan of Chrome Apps, but this Smart Bar setup seems so much more logical, usable and flat out enjoyable. I’ve really started to feel like the web apps are built-in features of an incredibly flexible native app.

The bottom line is, whether you see a need for it or not, you simply have to try this app. It’s really something new and interesting and I think you’ll enjoy it.

My one complaint is that I’d really like to be able to throw anything I want into the Smart Bar. For instance, I use Basecamp to manage AppStorm articles and would love to have it in the sidebar but don’t want to wait for someone else to get around to building it. Raven should let me roll my own app on the fly. I could easily point to a list of URLS and choose from a list of generic icons to represent each link. In less than two minutes I could link my Basecamp ToDos to a checkmark icon, my Basecamp Calendar to a calendar icon, etc. This would be much more convenient than watching the Web App Shop daily and hoping someone else shares my need.

Conclusion

I haven’t quite decide whether Raven is really a site-specific browser or simply a better way to build a browser. Whatever it is, it’s a great and truly unique attempt to rethink the way we use the web.

Raven is free, cool, attractive, useful; what are you waiting for? Go check it out and you just might turn to your old way of using web apps nevermore.


Summary

A fantastically unique browser that brings together web apps, site-specific browsing and a free browsing mode quite unlike anything else I've ever used.

9
  • http://hito.fr hito

    Mmmhhh looks interesting and i’m a fan of twitter UI so maybe i will give a try :)
    But what about the engine behind this browser ?
    And is it usable for web development ?

    • http://www.hito.fr hito

      Forgot to ask and what about the performance ? :)
      Faster ? Lighter ? …

    • http://vitorgalvao.com Vítor

      According to what I’ve read from the developer, it uses Webkit (thankfully), but he may at some point fork his own version of it.

  • Wickedsp1d3r

    Does this browser support custom CSS and adblocking?

    • Tim

      There is an option in the Preferences for adding a custom stylesheet but it isn’t enabled yet.

  • Skoopman

    I am testing this browser right now and it’s pretty nice and fast. The final version could be better than Chrome. The only thing I am missing is a 1Password extension. Without it, the browser is useless for me.

  • Steven Griffiths

    I’m really liking this. It seems a lot better than Rockmelt with a nice and clean interface. The speed seems nice and seems to be faster than Safari.
    I do hope they will be adding an ad-block app to it and like above 1Password.

    I tell you what feature I would love. I’d love to have a preference where it is totally locked to the app sites. That would be ideal for letting my little brats on the mac.

  • http://quartadecima.com Nicolas Prieur

    Excellent review, and an excellent application, i’m going to download it now and see the guts of it, this might even gain a nice spot on my dock forever!

    thanks for the nice article.

    Nicolas.Prieur
    quartadecima.com

  • Eric Poulin

    Hmm… Let me know when adblock is available and I’ll buy

  • FDJ

    Seriously, why does EVERY review in the last years score between 7 and 9… do you simply get sponsored by these companies, or do you guys only review great apps? Every time I open up a review I can already calculate the score based upon the title.

    • PIE

      Maybe that’s because a score is an arbitrary number that is useless to the decision making process. You don’t need a score, you need a review.

    • iynque

      As I recall from a previous post, the posted reviews have high scores. If something would get a low score, they don’t post the review. It helps promote good software without potentially crippling developing software.

  • Bruce

    I’m not able to import favorites, why is that? And also, if i have 2 or more twitter accounts, how does it work? Or it doesn’t yet?

    Seems like a cool browser though.

  • http://www.petshopboxstudio.com Kuswanto

    The tabs systems makes my head hurts. I wish Raven add unified tag system. Right now each App have their own tabs. Create new tabs on wrong app can make you wondering, where did I put that tab.

  • Mark

    Does Raven use a lot of resources? Chrome already slows me down, wouldn’t like ot add another background app that makes my mac even less responsive.

    • maximus

      it looks to be on par with camino browser on my imac in terms of RAM usage but works quite snappier.
      hope that helps.

    • Timisorean

      With one tab open, Chrome uses 150 MB while Raven uses only 100. The CPU usage seems to be a lot less, too. Give it a try :)

  • maximus

    nice and responsive app but one thing i don’t like in particular is if i for instance open youtube video and then want to browse web in another tab while listening to some tunes, as soon as i navigate away from youtube tab the playback stops.hope they fix it in the upcoming updates.

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  • Becca

    This seems pretty great…but I can’t fully enjoy this browser until it has adblock and is compatible with the Reddit Enhancement Suite (as nerdy as that is…)

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  • rhayan

    fantastic browser..but I’m missing something important.. no zoom-in/out function and no bookmarks bar..:) other then that i give it a 8 out of 10

  • Tim

    It feels like the next Shiira-a promising browser with features other browsers do not have and likely will not adopt. The speed is fantastic and I love the UI. But, there are some annoyances that prevent me from using it daily.

    * Occasionally window loses mouse focus. So I must click inside the window to regain the focus to scroll with the keyboard.
    * The CMD+Up Arrow and CMD+Down Arrow keys switch apps rather than jump to the top or bottom of the window, respectively. This is different behavior than all other browsers on the Mac I’ve used, and I use these keys a lot.
    * Apps are nothing more than quick access to the normal web site. I don’t really see how this is that useful.
    * While in an app it seems wrong that I can start opening tabs. Suddenly it’s not an app window anymore, it’s just a normal browser window and I lose my place. How do I get back to the tabs I had open before I accessed the app and got lost? Oh, I just click the Home/Raven in the side bar or I can use CMD+0. I don’t like this.
    * The Home keyboard shortcut doesn’t work.
    * There is no undo close tab option.
    * No tab overview. I love this feature.

    These days I’m trying more apps because I’m annoyed with a lot of the standard apps that aren’t innovating. Many of these open source and third party apps are doing things differently, and better, than the old stand-by’s. Raven has a lot of potential and I will definitely be keeping an eye on it.

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  • Jay

    best web browser app that I have ever used. I like the fact that it even keeps your history in tabs.. it’s pretty useful for doing research.

    cheers

  • http://twosixcode.com Alexander Kendrick

    For anyone looking for this app, it appears to have been renamed and at a new URL:
    http://robin.thomasricouard.info/

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