- Browser history is flaky, and bookmarking takes too much work.
- History Book automatically saves every page you visit, except the ones you don’t want it to.
- Everything is synced via iCloud.
Ever tried to find a page you already visited via your browser history? Of course you have. Did you ever find it? Well…
You’d think that browser history would be a rich seam when you’re searching for, well, for anything. Previously-visited pages have already been chosen—by you—and should appear at the top of any search. And yet your browser’s history feature is probably junk. Half the pages you visit seem to be missing, and what about the actual words on those pages? Why can’t you search for them? That’s where Zhenyi Tan’s History Book comes in. It saves all that stuff automatically and still maintains your privacy.
"I tried those read-it-later/bookmark manager apps before, but [I] gave up because there was too much cognitive load," History Book developer Zhenyi Tan told Lifewire via email. "I was constantly thinking about "is this article worth saving?" when I read something on the internet. Then after saving the article, I would label them with keywords to help with searching later. Then I would star the really-gotta-read-this ones. It was like tending a zen garden. In the end, I never read most of those articles anyway."
Google can remember your search history, and depending on how you have things set up, privacy-wise, it can track a lot more. But what we’re interested in here is a way to find that website you once visited. The one you can’t seem to find again with any Google or DuckDuckGo searches. The page that was exactly the one you wanted, but seems to have disappeared.
One way to keep track of sites you want to remember is to bookmark them. All browsers have built-in bookmarking tools, and you can also use a bookmarking service like Pinboard to save and tag sites you want to remember. But as Tan says, that can be a lot of work, even for the kind of nerd who likes to catalog their data.
Privacy in your browser history is important because we often visit pages that contain our personal information, like email.
History Book is ingenious in its simplicity. It’s a browser extension for Safari (on Mac, iPhone, and iPad) that just saves every web page you visit. That’s almost it, but it’s Tan’s implementation details that take this concept from a nightmare to a must-have.
First, the app only saves pages that Safari classifies as "articles." If you can use Safari's built-in reader mode on the page, then it's an article. Surprisingly, this includes many shopping sites and other non-blog type sites, but—crucially—it excludes banking and similar websites. You can also add any site you like to the exclude list, so it will never be saved.
"The earlier versions of History Book would automatically save every web page, and I was afraid of using it. I felt like my own app was invading my privacy," Tan explained to Lifewire via email. "So I kept adding more and more privacy-related features. It wasn't until I added the feature to exclude domains from auto-save that I finally felt comfortable using it as intended."
This built-in privacy means that a) the app itself has no access to sensitive data and b) that you can safely store the text version of that page on your computer without worrying.
“Privacy in your browser history is important because we often visit pages that contain our personal information, like email. You don’t want someone to be able to get into your email or gain access to sensitive information through a sort of “back door” via your browser history,” Kristen Bolig, founder of SecurityNerd, told Lifewire via email.
History Book saves these articles as text, which means the contents, and not just the title or URL of a page, can be searched. And that makes the app infinitely more useful. In fact, if you like, these nice, clean, saved pages can be used as a kind of read-it-later queue, although you might quickly get overwhelmed.
The other advantage of storing just the text (the app loads in images on the fly) is that it takes up hardly any space on your computer. It also saves this database on your iCloud, so you can sync between your devices without Tan’s servers ever touching your private data. I’ve been using the app along with a firewall, and it never connects to anything but the pages you have saved, and then only to load the images.
There are other apps that do a similar job—St. Clair Software’s History Hound is a great one. But History Book is beautifully simple, and is the only history app I know of that works on iOS. Check it out.