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The Arc browser’s Boosts feature lets you change how any website looks

If you use Arc Browser, you’re about to have the power to redesign the Internet. Kind of Arc, the popular new browser from The Browser Company, is releasing an updated version of its Boosts feature that lets you control everything from the color to the layout of each website you visit.

Basically, Boost has two features. You can use it to change the colors and fonts on a page, or you can use it to hide a given part of a page. (You can also write CSS and JavaScript, so technically the sky’s the limit, but it requires more coding knowledge.) Want to force a website to dark mode? Easy. Want to make the text of an article bigger so you can actually see it, you know? Complete.

To explain, let me just tell you some things I’ve done with Boost over the few days I’ve been messing around with the feature. I used Boost’s “Zaps” feature to remove all signs of shorts from the YouTube homepage and eliminate the “Trending” sidebar on Twitter. I of the verge Homepage and one that exclusively uses the Papyrus font. (Best font ever, am I right?) I created a font that tries to automatically remove sponsored listings that Amazon likes to nudge to the top of search results. I got rid of both sidebars on LinkedIn. And I changed a bunch of news sites to be the same sandy pink financial TimesBecause it’s nice to read like this.

Lite mode ledge, you like to see it.
Image: David Pearce

Boosts work well but not perfectly. Sometimes it has bad ideas about what colors go together, and I occasionally swatch part of a page but it never goes completely. If you mess with it long enough, you can usually get it right, but it’s not quite the perfect point-and-click experience. I definitely made some websites worse in trying to make them better.

Beneath it all lies a philosophical question: Who should have control over the way websites look and work? Who am I to poke around on the YouTube homepage? Darin Fischer, a longtime web developer who is now a software engineer at a browser company, thinks giving control to users is the only right answer. “At the end of the day, it’s software,” he says. “You’re running it on your computer, you’re bringing up these websites, why not let you customize how it looks?”

Boost is really just a new version of an old idea. Tools like Greasemonkey and Stylish make it possible to customize your own experience of the web, but they usually require at least basic coding knowledge. The first version of Boost, which shipped last year in Arch, was just that. On the other hand, creating boosts with the new tools is as easy as moving around a color wheel and clicking on the elements you want to bump up.

Trying to zap all of Amazon’s sponsored results wasn’t easy, but I got there.
Image: David Pearce

If you create a Boost you like, you can share it with other Arch users, who can install it with a single click. Limit only? Boost that uses JavaScript cannot be shared, which is a defense against bad actors building sneaky code into their Boost. Basically, you can wreck your own computer with JavaScript Boost but not someone else’s.

The browser company has even created something called Boost Galleries, where you can search and find those shareable customizations for different websites. It’ll be a bit like the Chrome Web Store, Fischer says, minus all the things that make the Chrome Web Store a headache. Boost can’t read your browser history, and they can’t interfere with the actual interactivity of a website. The way Fischer describes it, Boost just lets the page load and then tweaks a few things. It’s simple on purpose, and Fischer says that’s not likely to change.

Boost Gallery is the place to find other people’s tweaks on the web.
Image: The Browser Company

An interesting challenge here for The Browser Company is to make sure things don’t break. Some users compulsively create boosts that cause problems on a site or hide something that turns out to be useful; Those users may even forget that they boosted and just blame the website. Fischer says he’s sensitive to this as well as the potential for things like putting images on webpages to sow misinformation, but he thinks limiting what Boost can do will help prevent the worst outcomes. Gets help.

Boosts are also coming to Arch’s mobile app, but not yet. And Fischer seems a little less enthusiastic about the potential on mobile: Since you’re likely to do your YouTubing and Redditing in an app rather than a tab, Arc can’t do much for you on your phone.

In fact, the fact that boosts don’t even work on mobile is a testament to Fisher of how useful they are. “I have some boosts for sites that I just don’t want to be without,” he says. “When I open my phone I find it’s missing – it looks like the colors are wrong.” He says that of all the things he and his team have used Boosts for, changing styles has been unexpectedly powerful. “It’s a site’s legibility, font choice, colors, contrast. Taking control and letting it happen the way you want it can be really huge.

After playing with the new Boost for a few days, I don’t know whether it will change the way I use the web forever. But I know I like YouTube and Twitter better without most of their interface. Skip the sidebar — it’s obvious.

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