April 2009


Speaking of marketing that better explains what Ubiquity does, student contributor Zac Lym has made a really cool Ubiquity ad concept video. I’ve gotten used to taking Ubiquity for granted, but watching this video makes me excited about it again.

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I’d like to thank my readers for their comments on my previous post about bookmarks. It was very useful for me to hear about the bookmark use cases that I had overlooked (for instance, I didn’t realize how important the bookmark-all-in-folder / open-folder-in-tabs feature was to so many of you.)

Now I have a follow-up question for you readers. I’m trying to understand how bookmark usage patterns differ on mobile web browsing platforms. This issue has serious implications for the design of the bookmark UI in Fennec. It also affects the design of Weave. What should be the default Weave behavior when syncing bookmarks between desktop and mobile clients? The current behavior is to simply merge the two lists, so you have the same bookmarks in both places. But if there is a big difference between the bookmarks you want on one side and the bookmarks you want on the other side, then maybe pushing everything into one big pile isn’t the best approach.

I must admit that I very rarely do any mobile web-browsing. I have an old, crummy cell phone that I barely use. I take my laptop everywhere and do my web browsing on that. (I know, I’m behind the times.) In fact, the browsing I’ve done on my Nokia N810 in order to develop and test Weave on Fennec is about the most that I’ve done. That means that I have not developed the personal experience or intuition to guide design decisions about mobile browsing. Instead, I have to rely on data, input, and stories from others who do use the mobile web.

Picture of me cursing my cell phone

That’s why, if you are a mobile web user, I am especially interested in your answers to the following questions:

  1. Do you use bookmarks when browsing on a cell phone or other mobile device?
  2. If so, how does your bookmark use on mobile differ from your bookmark use on a desktop or laptop machine?
  3. If you don’t use bookmarks in mobile browsing, why not? Is it because of a poor interface, because your needs are different, or some other reason?
  4. Finally, is there a difference between the set of bookmarks you commonly use on the desktop, and the set of bookmarks you commonly use (or think you would use) on a mobile gadget? Do you think there’s a case for keeping these two lists of bookmarks separate?

Thanks very much for your feedback!

bookmarks

Raise your hand if:

  • Bookmarks are less important to your web use in 2009 than they were in 1999
  • Trying to find one bookmark in your bookmark menu is like looking for a needle in a pile of a thousand needles
  • You do searches for pages you know you have bookmarked, because using Google is easier than hunting through your bookmark menu.
  • You create about ten bookmarks for each one you come back to later.
  • You know you could make your bookmark menu more manageable with tags and folders… but it’s so much work that you never get around to doing it.

Bookmarking was a great feature back in the days of the first web browsers, but on the modern Web it feels a bit creaky. Maybe bookmarks are no longer doing their job as well as they could be.

(more…)

A CNet article about Fennec mentions Weave as the killer advantage that mobile Firefox will have over other mobile browsers. Yay! Thanks to Jay (who demoed Weave to the reporter) for the link. It made my day!

(Now, we just have to make sure the actual product lives up to the hype…)

WordPress tells me that the fourth most common search string that leads people to this site is “changing ubiquity starting keystrokes”. Huh. That’s interesting. The fact that it’s such a common question probably means that the feature is too hard to discover. But as long as people are asking it, maybe this site should, you know, answer it or something.

Do the “Help” command in Ubiquity. A page will open; in the upper-left corner of this page there is a widget for setting they keystroke combination that activates Ubiquity.

If you can’t bring Ubiquity up, because its default keystroke combination doesn’t work on your computer for whatever reason, then you can get to the same page by typing about:ubiquity into your URL bar.

Hope that helps.

For my second Design Challenge tutorial session, I did a presentation on how to make interactive prototypes with Canvas. After all, not every prototype needs to be done as a Firefox extension. Canvas prototypes are far quicker and easier to make, and although more limited, are also more flexible in some ways.

What’s Canvas? Canvas is an HTML tag, part of the HTML 5 standard:

<canvas></canvas>

By itself, it does nothing. But Javascript running in the page can treat the Canvas element as a freeform drawing area, and dynamically fill it with whatever combination of graphics and text you want. Things that would previously require a plugin like Flash, such as freeform animation and interactivity (although not sound), can be done easily in Canvas.

The advantage is that you can draw to the Canvas using Javascript, a language you probably already know if you’re a web developer, instead of learning a new domain-specific plugin language. Users of your page can interact with it without needing to have any plugins installed, and since it’s all part of the page they can see the source code simply by choosing “View Source”. (Though the last can be either an advantage or a drawback, depending on whether you intend to be open-source or not…)

Here are some examples of cool things you can do with Canvas:

One major drawback is that although Canvas works in Firefox, Opera, Safari, and Chrome, it is not yet supported by Internet Explorer. However, there are workarounds for this, such as Explorer Canvas.

Here are the presentation links:

The presentation is aimed at total beginners, so you should be able to get something out of it even if you barely know any Javascript yet.