January 4, 2010
Nothing sucks on the web like not being able to go to the site you want. Page not found and 404 errors are an inconvenience that entirely halt your workflow. What’s worse than not being able to access a site is not being given relevant information to fix the problem. When users are presented with an error message, they tend to do whatever will make the error go away to get back to their task. Page not found errors can’t be dismissed, because they’re shown instead of the content wanted.
What creates an added level of frustration is not being given information on what the problem is. When users get a Page not found error, they likely have two questions in mind:
- Is this problem on my end, or not?
- If the problem is on my end, how can I fix it?
These are questions that have been hard for browsers to answer. Currently, Firefox’s network error pages aren’t incredibly useful. They’re certainly not as useful as Chrome’s, which use Google Link Doctor to find possible matches both for subdirectories and domains. That won’t necessarily tell the user if the problem is on their end or not, but it will help if the problem is a typo.
So how could a browser tell users if the problem is on their end or not, without infringing on their privacy? One project that currently takes a stab at this is Herdict, which Johnathan Zittrain’s been working on at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society. What Herdict does is let computer users tell the “herd” – via a Firefox extension – what sites are accessible. The aggregated data can tell if a site is down (because no one can access it), or blocked by a firewall (because only some people can access it), or likely on the user’s end (because everyone else can access it). Not only does that answer the question of “is this problem on my end,” but it may start to answer questions like “is this problem only experienced by my country, network provider, or device?”
Useful stuff! Does it have a place in the browser, and specifically in Firefox? I think that getting and submitting anonymized data should have an increased role in the browser, and especially where it promotes transparency and information to the user. Mitchell Baker has been writing about data, and how Mozilla could be treating aggregated, anonymized data as a public asset that should be freely available. Especially in situations where sites are being blocked and censored, giving users knowledge of the situation seems to align with Mozilla’s goals of transparency and viewing the web as global public resource that must remain open and accessible.
One way something like Herdict could be incorporated is through those Page not found errors. If there were an option on these to submit anonymized data, we could build a pretty accurate view of accessibility information for a website and share it. Allowing users to submit data when there’s a problem is something many programs do already – especially for crashes. This is good design; it makes users feel better by registering the annoyance they feel as a useful data point to developers. Here’s some sketches of what it could look like to incorporate Herdict’s aggregated accessibility data with these error messages:
1. No available information on a site:
2. Site is blocked due to local firewall:
3. Site is down for a country:
4. Site is down for everyone:
Watching live video online is generally a great experience. It’s a way to watch important world events without a TV, a way to view with friends without syncing, and still the best way to see a shuttle launch naked.
But online live video could be improved. For instance, there’s usually no way to rewind video to see a clip again, nor a way to pause and watch video from where you left off. In fact, current implementations of live video have very few features – usually they are adaptations of regular video controls, but with non-interactive elements such as stationary or removed timelines.
We think users would benefit from the ability to pause and go back in live video by keeping some amount of the video buffered. However, this presents a few design challenges:
- How to visually represent when the user is “live” vs. viewing buffered video
- How to visually represent the amount of video in the buffer
- How to make it easy for the user to jump between live and buffered video
Limi and myself did some brainstorming to develop ways to present this functionality. Below is an idea we had that we’d love feedback on. It’s based on the idea of a “live mode,” which users can enter and exit via the video controls. By default, the user begins in live mode (the box on the right of the timeline). As the user watches the live video, the timeline to the left encompasses how much video has been buffered. So, after one minute the timeline represents one minute in length, and after two minutes it represents two minutes. To give an indication of how much time the bar represents, ticks marking minutes will scroll left as the video plays. Clicking the live mode button or moving the slider back to the live point puts the user back in live mode.
However, eventually the video will reach the maximum that can be buffered. For the purposes of these mockups, we’ll say that 10 minutes is the limit. After the video plays for 10 minutes, the beginning of the video is dropped and no longer accessible. The user sees this as the 0:00 mark disappearing from the timeline, and higher time markers continuing to scroll left.
If the user pauses the video, he exits live mode and the slider moves off of the live mode box. A visual indication will show that the video is no longer live – perhaps by fading the live mode and/or changing the shape and color of the slider. As the video is paused, new live video will be buffered and old video will continue to be dropped, moving the paused slider and the timeline left.
Once the slider has moved back 10 minutes, the new video is no longer buffered: only the ten minutes immediately after the pause is stored. This is so that when the user returns, the video will play from the point they left off and not the somewhat arbitrary 10 minutes before the live video. At this point, the buffered 10 minutes and the live point are no longer connected – a visual indication such as a break of the timeline will indicate this.
So, what do you think? Was this difficult to understand? It’s a bit of a shift from commonly understood video control interaction, but I think it may be intuitive once users play with it. I’ll be eager to find out.
You can read more about our progress in the wiki.
P.S. This is the first blog post I’ve made in awhile, but unfortunately for you I’m going to be posting a lot more frequently, starting now. Please don’t cry, they won’t all be this long.
July 16, 2008
As many of you know, Dão Gottwald has been working for awhile on his Ctrl-Tab add-on. Ctrl-Tab has two parts: a filmstrip that allows the user to quickly jump to recently used tabs, and a tab preview mode. These features have been widely used, and lately we at Mozilla have been working to give them a home as a Firefox feature.
Dão and I have been working on the design of a feature based on Ctrl-Tab, while Dão has been building patches. We’re happy to announce the filmstrip of recently-viewed tabs landed today and will show up in tomorrow’s nightlies as a new Firefox feature: Control-Tab.
Since this change will affect current Firefox users’ workflow, I want to describe briefly how Control-Tab works, why it is being added, and what changes you’ll see.
How does Control-Tab work?
Pressing Control-Tab in Firefox will bring up a filmstrip view of your recently visited tabs. Pressing Tab repeatedly with Control held down will cycle through thumbnails of the tabs you’ve visited in order, with each press of Tab going one thumbnail back in time.
Why Is Control-Tab being added?
- Fast Switching between Tabs. Control-Tab will show thumbnails of the last tabs you have visited in the order you have visited them. This means that if you’re on Site A, pressing Control-Tab will take you to Site B that you last visited. Pressing Control-Tab again will take you back to A, and again to B, etc. This is useful if you need to quickly flip between two tabs that aren’t next to each other and makes it easier to carry out tasks which require multiple tabs.
- Visual Navigation. Control-Tab shows thumbnails of your previously used tabs, so finding them by sight is fast. This is especially helpful if you’ve opened up so many tabs that some are obscured.
What’s going to change?
Pressing Control-Tab will no longer open the next tab (Control-PageDown still will). We know that expert users are used to this shortcut, and changing it will mean an annoying adjustment. However, we’re creating Control-Tab because we feel the benefits it offers are greater than the drawback of having to adjust your workflow.
Control-Tab is a first step towards increased visual navigation and content organization features, and we would love to hear what you think. Usage and feedback of Control-Tab will help guide future designs and features, so please leave a comment here or in the forums to tell us your opinion.
May 21, 2008
I’m Jennifer Boriss, but I go by just Boriss. Two weeks ago I started work at Mozilla as a user experience designer. I’ll be working alongside established superheros Mike Beltzner, Alex Faaborg, Madhava Enros, and Aza Raskin to make the Firefox the best online experience possible.
I’m joining Mozilla at an interesting and exciting time. The much anticipated Firefox 3 will arrive soon, and its first release candidate was released on May 17. The response to RC1 so far has been overwhelmingly positive, and deservedly so. Firefox 3 is a solid, excellent product, and everyone here and in the community is very thrilled to see it out the door. The Firefox 3 release is the latest in a long series of exciting events to happen at Mozilla. Ever since Firefox 1.0’s release in 2004, it’s been steadily gaining users in almost every country. Today, Firefox enjoys over 16% market share online (28% in Europe), and this is only growing. Fairly impressive, considering IE held 95% of the market at Firefox 1.0’s release.
Like many, I found the success little open-source browser that could very exciting. Beyond the fast, clean web experience, the collaborative and open nature of Firefox’s development is exciting as a model for achieving projects online across many countries. And also like many, I found the previous lack of choice in browsing and the poor user experience of Internet Explorer disturbing. If the internet is the new medium of information, business, and communication, the experience of its users is too important to be entirely written by Microsoft. This is why I joined Mozilla and am pumped about what’s to come.
This is a formative time for Mozilla, but also the internet as a whole. The nature of the browser and online experience will go through a series of important changes – evidenced in part by the hype of web 2.0 and more recent development of rich internet applications. How we access and create content is still shifting and being rewritten. While no one knows the precise direction the internet will take, we can set broad goals and work through advancing technology to achieve them. My focus is on user experience, so some possible goals could be:
These are fairly broad goals, and I surely don’t know all the specifics of how we should achieve them. And, given the number of very passionate Firefox users, the task of improving the user experience is a bit daunting. If Firefox were a poor product, this job would be easy. As it is, Firefox already has what I consider an excellent user experience, and I know the risk of fixing something that isn’t broken – I won’t do it lightly. That’s why I’m hoping this blog will be more of a conversation than a monologue. I’ll use it to post ideas and designs for Firefox, and hope that people will comment. I welcome all feedback, especially negative. After all, my job at Mozilla isn’t to implement my own personal visions, but rather to be an advocate for the users. So rant, rave, complain, tell me what makes your grandmother angry, whatever – let’s start the conversation.