June 8, 2008
There’s been a lot of recent forum and blog posts on the subject of tabs. Brian Clark’s and Aza Raskin’s posts got me thinking about how tabs are one of the tiny changes that redefined the web browsing experience, but they still have plenty of shortcomings. These shortcomings are primarily in the areas of preview and search, and are exacerbated when people use a superhuman number of tabs at once. The system wasn’t quite designed for this, but if it’s how people work best the system needs to adjust – not the users.
Here’s some problem with the current system:
- No way to preview content in tabs
- Current tab disambiguation with favicon and title often identical for many tabs
- When many tabs are open, most are obscured under excess tab menu. This prevents the user from quickly finding the tab they want and getting a sense of how many tabs they have open (see Aza’s post).
- No way to detect multiple instances of the same tab.
- No way to search open tabs textually or visually.
- No way to tell loading status of tabbed content.
Over the past couple weeks, I’ve been sketching some possible first steps at solutions to these problems.
Prototype 1: Tab preview
The first prototype is for a quick way to preview tabbed content as thumbnails. The user goes to any tab and drags down to see thumbnail previews of the tabs at the top. If the user continues to pull down, he sees thumbnails of previously obscured tabs. If a tab is only partially loaded, this is represented by a semi-transparent loaded bar over the tab.
This addresses the problem of many tabs looking identical by allowing the user to get a quick view of what’s open and what’s loaded.
The user can drag a tab to the left, right, or bottom of the screen to move all of their tab previews.
Sketch 2: Tab Management
These sketches are for a separate “tab management” window, where the user can organize and view tabs visually. They can view open tabs as a grid, a list, or in “scatter,” mode. Scatter mode provides the user with a free-form arrangement of tabs (and possibly history) which they can organize spatially. The user can choose to view their tabs in scatter mode:
- By site. This groups tabs together by what domain they were reached through. If the user has ten articles open from the New York Times, these will be grouped together with the New York Times homepage being largest.
- By topic. This groups tabs together by what searches they were accessed through. If the user has performed a Google search on San Francisco restaurants, all tabs resulting from this search are grouped together.
- By recency & frequency. Using the idea behind the Awesomebar, sites which are visited frequently and recently appear larger in tab view and are thus easier and faster to recognize and click.
- In freeform. The user can resize and move tabs, grouping them in whatever way fits with their working model for a project. They can add labels and fields to help create organizational systems and save their tab configurations for future sessions.
More details and sketches on these prototypes can be found in the wiki. I’d love to hear thoughts and feedback. These are in no way final solutions, but more of a way to move the discussion forward by addressing specific tab concerns. So, please feel free to reply to this post or email at jboriss at mozilla dot com.