Geek tech: Can we please have multiple cookie-sets?

Martin bemoans the rather 1995 usage of cookies in a web 2.0 world

Why can't all your digits do this?

In the course of writing, researching and administrating Den Of Geek, I am forced to be logged into no less than 5 separate Google accounts at the same time. Den Of Geek itself uses 3 for different purposes, from weblog analytics to various specialised email addresses, and I additionally need my own personal login – which dates back 8 years – and another for research purposes.

This means that at any time I usually have 5 separate browsers running, most of which are derivations of the Firefox open-source code. This isn’t a convenient situation; Firefox’s notorious memory retention problems remain – though improved – even into V3+, whereas alternatives such as Opera and Netscape will eventually prove unusable for later versions of Gmail.

Until Google Chrome came along, I was scouting about for yet another branch-off of Firefox to download so that I could check mails and get my work done without constant logging in and out (I already use Netscape, despite its constant nagging for me to abandon it in favour of Firefox, and also Flock. And Opera.).

It occurs to me that this is no way to run a railroad, and that browser-developers could do worse than look into integrated features that permit cookie log-ins to multiple acoounts.

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I might be unusual, demographically, in being willing to run multiple browsers, but I don’t believe I’m unusual in needing to check more than one account from the same provider, i.e. diverse gmail accounts. The notion that a web-user will be using one browser and need only one set of cookies seems a bit atavistic for 2009, and the technology of cookies themselves – too political to easily change, I know – inadequate for modern needs.

There are a few cobbled-together solutions, most of which are Firefox extensions/add-ins, and I’ve tried most of them. Gmail Manager for FireFox, for instance, is a great idea – a status bar icon which technically permits you to open a new tab with a particular set of cookies, but in practise you end up being logged out. There are too many security measures in place that work against the current raft of solutions to make any of them really practical.

A better solution – and one that is probably easiest to implement in Chrome – where tabs and windows operate within their own memory allocations – would be the option to create a new tab/window from a named cookie-set.

The promising alternative of using Adobe Flash’s storage space for more-flexible cookies is obviated by the pop-up warnings that will have most users heading for the hills if they see it. Once again, security measures mitigate against anything but a concerted and official effort to bring cookies into the 21st century. I’d be awfully grateful if someone would do so. Otherwise I might have to develop ‘Andersonfox V1’ from the Firefox source code when Opera and Netscape don’t support the advanced features in Google any longer.

21st December 2008, 18.00 GMT