Thursday, November 20, 2008

Access bar could be so powerful

Some time ago, I posted about Access bar and Natural language navigation. Part of it was implemented in Firefox 3. But after using Firefox 3, I find that applied concepts have many shortcomings:
  • I see that most people still don't use natural language, but are rather using location bar the same old way. I guess that big part of the problem is that there are two boxes, and one is not sure which one he should use. Eventually it might be the case sometimes even with the expert users (myself), as they are not sure whether they have something in history or not. If I am not sure where to type, I search Google, as it is more sure that I will get the result. After a time it turns into the habit;
  • just the fact that location bar has URL on it by default (except on start with blank page) translates into my subconscious need to type in URL and not natural language, not to say about influence on discoverability - finally, you shouldn't be typing natural language in the box with URL;
  • if you try to search bookmarks using location bar, many times they won't appear, so you have to go to Library and repeat the thing. And then after a time you go directly to Library to avoid the hustle. It might even happen with history, but it is more rare case so it doesn't turn into habit.
  • Sometimes I am not sure which result is the wanted result, and if I am wrong, I have to search again
  • Obvious complaint is that location bar searches only Titles, and not the full page, so it might be the case that I am not able to find keyword.
All in all, my perception is that it has usability (but limited) for me, and not so much for the average user.

Now, the solution:
Access bar
So the main idea is:
  • keep just one box (access bar) for navigating the Internet, and make it the box that appears first. This box is more like a search bar, as location bar is now moved to the right, and its only purpose is to show URL. Location bar is disabled and you can't type in. If you click on it I guess it should have an icon to copy URL. Access bar will now show your previous search, and thus instruct you that you should normally continue with another search.
  • the hardest part - integrate Google search into results. Here is how it should work - based on the frecency of results from its index browser calculates quality of internal results and decides how many slots it should reserve for the Google results and what should be their position. There should be always at least one slot for this purpose, and those slots are indicated by search icon. At first slots appear disabled, and when users pauses typing, they fill in with results (just like Inquisitor extension). Of course, whenever you use Google, you also get sponsored results, as Google wouldn't provide this any other way. The one who doesn't like may disable this in options.
  • this is not dropdown, but overlay on page. The purpose is to make it possible to middle click results and keep overlay shown as tabs are opening in the background. I put even pin icon, so that users not familiar with middle clicking or control clicking (and unfortunately there are lot of them) can open multiple pages in background with plain clicking. Of course there should be also and keyboard shortcut to do this, like shift+alt+enter
  • at the bottom of the overlay there is the option to continue search through one of the options: History, Bookmarks, Google, other engines. Ideally, Firefox should collect all engines one ever searched (like Chrome) and show it here, but by order of how many times one used them for searching. Eventually, they may disappear after some time of not using, to keep things cleaner.
  • of course, there are Google suggestions in tooltip. One can switch to them by pressing right arrow, or by clicking mouse.
Just to note that things would have looked a bit cleaner if tabs were on top (like Chrome), as you could get overlay closer to access bar. But it would also look very good with Sidebar navigation I have mentioned before.

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