Voyurl: A Cool, Creepy Way to Browse the Web

By  |  Monday, March 14, 2011 at 5:22 pm

Want to see every website that I’ve visited over the last day or two? Sign up for Voyurl, and then knock yourself out.

Voyurl is a web service that obliterates the conventions of privacy on the Internet. Once you’ve signed up for the service and installed an extension in Firefox, Chrome or Safari, it tracks your every move and automatically posts your history on the web. You’re free to look at the browsing history of all users in one giant timeline, and you can follow specific users as well.

Yes, there are privacy safeguards. At any time, you can shut the extension off, stream your history anonymously or just share links on a site-by-site basis. But the main idea behind Voyurl is that there’s nothing wrong with sharing your activity on the Internet or snooping on the activity of others. (Voyurl’s motto: “It’s okay to look.”)

When I signed up for Voyurl, I figured that being watched would influence my behavior. But as the day wore on, I was surprised by how quickly I’d forgotten all about it. Every once in a while, I’d remember that my entire browsing history was in public view, and I’d scramble to my Voyurl home page to see if any of my links were interesting, embarrassing or just revealing. So far, my timeline is mundane; you can get a sense of what stories I’m writing by looking at the clusters of links, but you won’t find any blackmail fodder — at least, I don’t think.

Likewise, I found the general stream of Voyurl user activity to be pretty dull. It’s like an RSS reader with only minimal curation — you can filter out specific topics — or like StumbleUpon without the social feedback. Of course, right now it’s all early tech adopters, so they’re basically looking at the same websites that I am.

The real value of Voyurl would be in getting your friends to sign up and seeing what they do, and therein lies the service’s biggest challenge. After Voyurl’s founder, Adam Leibsohn,¬†sent me an invite, I passed it along to some of my close friends. Only one of them took the offer, and he shut the service off after visiting a dozen websites. A lot of people are uncomfortable about sharing what they do on the Internet, even if they’re not doing anything wrong, so I can’t help thinking that Voyurl works better as an artistic statement about Internet privacy — tracking cookies and social networks have basically ruined the idea — than an actual service.

That said, Leibsohn set up a landing page for Technologizer readers to try the service while it’s in private beta. You can do so here.

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