Firefox 3.1 New Tab Specification
Taking into account all of the feedback from the New Tab concept post, we’ve been working on the behavior for the streamlined New Tab in Firefox 3.1. The esteemed Asaf Romano is leading the development charge.
Adding a new search mechanism was the most contentious issue from the original proposal, so it’s been removed from the specification. The other main pieces of feedback we got were (a) that the page needs to load super fast, and (b) that it shouldn’t be visually distracting. Summing up the requirements into four themes we get:
Polite. The page must be super-fast to load, shouldn’t be distracting, or get in your way.
Quick access. Provide a fast way to open the pages you start navigation tasks with or for reclaiming closed tabs and windows. This is especially useful for heavy mouse users.
Streamline. New tabs are opened to start a new task. If we have a good idea of what that task is (like mapping an address selected on the last tab), we should simply and streamline that task in a polite way.
No configuration. Never force the user to set up or fidget with a feature before they use it.
New Tab Screen
There are three parts to the new tab screen. A quick-access strip along the bottom, a set of contextual actions in the upper left, and a tab and window recovery link in the upper right.
Note that the graphics here schematic — the icons and exact styling isn’t right. We are looking for help here, so feel free to jump in by mocking something up, putting it on Flickr, tagging it “mozconcept”, and blogging about it. Adding a comment here wouldn’t hurt either.
Let’s take the parts one at a time.
It may seem slightly strange the quick-access strip is along the bottom of the window. It’s there in order to be polite and not distract you if you’ve got your mind on opening a new tab and just entering a url. The bottom of the window not in your foveal vision, so if you are looking at the URL bar, you won’t notice the strip. It’s the best of both worlds: the cleanliness of a blank page, and the convenience of speed dial.
The quick-access strip is determined by frecency — the same metric that the Awesome Bar uses — with one twist. Instead of raw frecency over all sites visited, we are only considering those sites that start history “strands”. That is, we are using the most frecent sites that you actually begin browsing from. The versatile Places feature of Firefox 3 makes this possible.
The quick-access strip itself is made up of a thumbnail, title, favicon, and the last couple entries from the page’s RSS feed. It’s the last which is most interesting. Without the user ever having to know what RSS is, they still get the benefits of content syndication. For example, both Gmail and Yahoo! Mail provide RSS feeds, so you’ll automatically get to see your latest emails — without hassle or setup. Pretty good for a zero configuration interface. (Thanks to Ambient News for the inspiration for including RSS).
To enhance uncluttered-look, everything on the page is in grayscale and slightly faded. When the mouse gets near the strip, the colors fade back to being resaturated. These effects are possible by Robert O’Callahan and Vladimir Vukićević‘s awesome work on SVG effects for HTML content, which is new in Firefox 3.1.
Copy-navigate-paste is a common interaction on the web that we can streamline. These patterns should sound drudgingly familiar: Select some text, open a new tab, and do a Web search/Wikipedia search; Select an address, open a new tab, go to a mapping service, paste it in; Select a single word, open a new tab, go to a dictionary, paste it in, …
These are all things we can turn into a single click with contextual actions on the New Tab page.
The actions only show up when they are apropos, based on what you selected in the previous tab. If you’ve selected an address and open a new tab, you’ll be presented with a single-click way to map it, etc.
Eventually, these contextual actions can be a modular extension point, or even be integrated from Ubiquity.
Update: A couple comments point out that there needs to be a way to change providers for the contextual actions. I forgot to include that in this write-up, but I’ll be adding it here soon.
Clicking on the recover tabs and windows link slides the page over (iPhone style) to a set of thumbnails of recently closed tabs and windows.
Why is it on a separate screen? Because recovering an accidentally closed tab doesn’t happen so often that it warrants cluttering the new tab screen. The correct time to surface an affordance for quickly undoing an accidental close of a tab is just after a tab is closed, not on the new tab screen.
As an added benefit, this feature means we can remove the dialog box that asks users whether they want to restore a previous session or start anew upon Firefox start-up. That’s a question you normally don’t care about, and that has no easy way to undo a wrong choice. It’s removal, by providing a better mechanism on the new tab page, is a big win.
The brainstorming behind this specification was a group effort. Many thanks to Asaf Romano, Alex Faaborg, Jenny Boriss, Mike Beltzner, Madhava Enros, and Vladimir Vukićević. Special thanks to Edward Lee for the AutoDial add-on, and Atul Varma for the Ambient News add-on.