Is visual navigation ahead for Firefox?
June 24, 2008
Some ways of incorporating visual navigation are relatively minor and would actually bring more consistency to the Firefox interface, allowing the same navigation for tabs as already exist for bookmarks and tags. Two of these are:
- Awesomebar results giving indication if an item is already opened in a tab (see Madhava’s post )
- Tabs shown in the sidebar, and thus easily scanned, deleted en masse, and grouped by characteristics such as domain and frequency of visit
Another quick way to add visual navigation to content is to expand tooltips to include information such as thumbnails.
These changes are fairly basic and nondisruptive to the current workflow. However, more substantial ways of browsing content could pay off in increased efficiency online.
In brainstorming what some of these could be, I thought about the drawbacks of the current system of tabbed browsing. One problem is that tabs are displayed linearly, while the tasks they contain can be sprawling and nonlinear. In the following sketch, the user is visiting five domains, but the tab structure gives no visual indication of the link between the tabs other than the favicon and title:
Being able to group open tabs by domain is one way to address this problem. In the following sketch, based on an idea by Jay Sullivan, the user clicks and holds down a tab. This produces a drop-down menu which shows all tabs open for that domain. This interaction mirrors the operating system method of seeing all windows open for a particular application in that application’s menu.
Another way to bring visual navigation to Firefox would be to expand the metaphor of the desktop and bring its interactions into the browser. The current Firefox library is similar to an OS file directory, but with none of the visual navigation that OSes do well. Allowing the user to navigate their library visually would draw on a familiar metaphor, give visual navigation only when needed, and perhaps ease users into the browser and desktop beginning to merge. Certainly one could imagine dragging a “file” from the Firefox library onto the desktop, turning the item into a web application.
As always, more details are in the wiki and comments are very welcome!