Icons by Picasso

July 7, 2007 ⋅ 1 Comment »

I was cruising around over on the Mozilla Labs site, and found a cool proposal about how to make it easier to keep track of tabs in Firefox. Chromatabs associates a specific colour with each site, and then colours all the tabs from that site in the same colour, which lets you use your innate ability to recognize colour (for most of us, anyways) to easily distinguish between the tabs.

This reminded me of an idea I had a long time ago — let’s call it cubist thumbnails. In Picasso’s Violin and Grapes, he represents a violin using its characteristic forms, but without painting the entire object itself. We see the curves and immediately recognize it as a violin even though it’s only fragments of a violin.

Picasso's Violin and Grapes

In the same way, my idea is to capture the essence of a web page in a small thumbnail. Instead of a snapshot of the page itself, a cubist thumbnail would be an abstract icon containing the characteristic colours and forms of a web page. For example:

Digg Google Slashdot

Compare these to screenshots of the same pages:

Digg Google Slashdot

I think it’s much easier to identify the sites using the first set of icons.

For text, it would be possible to do a similar thing by identifying the most common words phrases used on the text, with a focus on ones that are particular to that document, kind of like Amazon’s Statistically Improbable Phrases. Slashdot might be “nerds news matters microsoft linux cmdrtaco”.


  1. Alex - October 21, 2007:

    This is an incredibly cool idea. -Alex