If mindless surfing is your favorite way to beat boredom and waste time, then the creators of the indie app behind the to-do list app Clear and game Heads Up! have a new product you want to try: Web roulette, an iOS mobile web browser app built for the short attention span of the TikTok era. With the debut version now available, you can add your favorite websites or choose from the suggestions, then swipe through the sites to see what’s new or shake the app for a surprising web page when boredom strikes.
The team says the idea initially struck them as something of a joke. But they soon realized that the idea of a “swipeable,” shakeable web browser that delivered our daily hits of dopamine might have merit.
“I mean, this is basically how I spend a lot of my time on the internet — mindlessly and semi-randomly bouncing back and forth between my favorite sites, hoping for something new. Maybe there’s something here?” explains the founder and designer of Impending Phil Ryu.
The Menacing team is known for designing several popular apps, including Heads Up! for The Ellen Degeneres Show, still the number 2 paid game in the US ten years after its launch; the clever to-do-list sensation Clear who went viral after his arrival in 2012 and is working on a major update; and, more recently, the pandemic hit game to play with kids, Here Kitty!, which lets toddlers burn off energy looking for a hidden meowing iPhone in your house.
Similar to Impending’s previous creations, the new Web Roulette app is designed to be simple, addictive and fun to use.
To get started, enter your favorite websites first, or you can choose from a list of suggestions, including news sites, such as NYT, as well as aggregators such as Google and Yahoo News, or websites dedicated to specific topics, such as technology. (TC, e.g. 💅), pop culture, gaming, lifestyle, sports, business, fashion and more. You can also choose from popular social sites, such as Reddit, Pinterest, Instagram, and Twitter, or popular shopping destinations, such as Amazon, Etsy, Wirecutter, and others.
We appreciated that there was also no login screen to immediately get in the way of using the app.
After you complete the setup, you get a little party with confetti streaming across your screen and a prompt to “spin”. You can then swipe left to browse your favorite sites – a process that is shocking. That is, the more you swipe, the more likely you are to shake the phone for a surprise website.
There are a few barriers to first use, as sites like Instagram, Twitter, or Reddit ask for logins, for example, and some sites still ask you via a banner to use their app even after you’ve opted for the mobile web version. But after you clear these initial hurdles, Web Roulette is easy to use as all you have to do is swipe.
Despite its simplicity, the app showcases the design expertise of its creators, as the animation that brings into view a new web page feels like something Apple would have built – the new page quickly jumps to the fore, in most cases no load time seems necessary to be .
One challenge, however, is that it’s not possible to swipe through Instagram photo carousels, as that triggers the swipe gesture in Web Roulette and loads a new website instead. You also can’t backtrack to return to a site if you’ve accidentally swiped – you’ll just have to wait for it to roll around again.
Meanwhile, if you want to save something you’re reading for a deeper dive later, the app supports sharing and the iOS Share Sheet will pop up to offer options. From here, you can share a link to other apps, such as mobile messengers, social apps, clipboard utilities, and third-party browsers (though strangely not Safari), or you can send the link to yourself or a friend via iMessage or AirDrop, among others.
The app also offers a few other benefits, such as built-in ad blocking and both haptic and sound feedback when your iPhone’s volume is turned up. The latter almost makes it feel like you’ve made a game of reading the web with chimes ringing increasing in tone until you’ve browsed through all the sites you’ve saved.
Of course, there’s more fun to be had by shaking the site for a surprise website, something that immediately reminded us of the early web sensation To trip. Lyu confirms that this is a general point of reference.
“I’ve heard some compare it to StumbleUpon… I like how it enhances the mindless browsing experience by giving you an easy way to discover and explore interesting new things,” he explains. Plus, he adds, some of the inspiration came from seeing other new web browser ideas gaining traction, throwing a bit of shade over newcomer Arc in the process.
“(Web Roulette) started one day when (menacing team member) Austin (Sarner) and I was looking at Arc Browser, and he said something along the lines of, ‘This is cool, but I don’t really get it. $20 million in financing? We could make a simpler and better mobile browsing experience in an afternoon.’” says Lyu. (Arc says it’s gone up over $17 millionbut you get the idea.)
Whenever Lyu mentioned Arc, Sarner repeated the same sentiment in the following months.
“…One day we were in a car stuck in traffic and I jokingly suggested, ‘Okay, what if it’s a browser with almost no user interface and completely random, like the way I mindlessly browse the Internet on my computer? computer check.’ It clicked there,” says Lyu. “I don’t think I’m the only one who’s a little embarrassed to admit how much of my web surfing is that form of mindless internet control, so there was some truth and substance to it this half-joke of an idea,” he adds.
(Lyu clarifies that he thinks Arc is cool and staffed by creative people, but Impending’s perspective leans towards “more toyish and simpler” and, well, “indie”.)
While Impending recommends adding about 10 websites for the best experience, you can add up to 20 sites in total. While consumers of heavy news may still choose to receive their news through a dedicated aggregator, such as Apple News, or an RSS reader such as Feedly, Web Roulette makes sense for those who are more casual with the web and perhaps between open browser tabs snooping around. . Or it works as a general time waster for anyone who wants to fill a few minutes without having to jump through different websites and apps.
Upcoming team members Phill Ryu, Austin Sarner, Tamas Zsar and David Lanham developed the app pre-launch teasing via Clear’s Twitter.
The app is still a “minimum viable fun product,” as Impending calls it (aka a version 0.1).
For now, the app is free to download and use, but the company is considering potential monetization strategies, such as charging fees to add more than 20 sites, for example. However, Ryu says the app is “not a costly project,” so they can only use the app to promote other products, such as generating interest in Clear.
Web Roulette is available at the iPhone App Store.