“An undefined problem has an infinite number of solutions” – Robert A Humphrey

I found that quote on the underside of a tea bottlecap. I think it’s germane to what we’re doing with Test Pilot.

In the months since we started the Test Pilot program, we’ve run three studies, which have collected massive piles of data.

But as the bottlecap warns, those massive piles won’t get us anywhere unless we know what problem we’re trying to solve with them.

There’s a temptation, when looking at a pile of data, to leap to design conclusions.

For example: Suppose studies show that almost nobody is using the profile manager. Great, that means we can get rid of the profile manager! Right?

Or, to use a non-hypothetical example:

Minimum, average, maximum tabs open per session

(Thanks to Blake Cutler for generating all the graphs used in this post).

The most common Firefox session is one with three tabs open? Well hot dog, we should optimize Firefox for the three-tab use case! Right?

Careful, there. This kind of assumption is dangerous. Maybe lots of people would start using the profile manager if they knew it existed. Maybe people would love to have sessions with more tabs open, if the interface was better for managing lots of tabs.

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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.

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For the past few Thursdays we’ve been doing something called an “Open Design Lunch” at Moz. We’ll pick a design problem that somebody’s working on and brainstorm it informally while munching pizza and burritos. Asa has been broadcasting these events on air.mozilla.com.

At today’s Open Design Lunch I brought up the question of how bookmarks should be accessed in Fennec. Bookmark management on Fennec gets extra tricky when you have hundreds (or thousands) of bookmarks from your desktop computer getting synced onto your mobile phone; so this problem is closely related to the UI design of Weave. My previous attempts to design a bookmarks UI haven’t solved these problems to my satisfaction.

The conversation didn’t conclusively settle anything (of course) but it brought up a lot of good ideas that deserve further investigation. Here’s the video:

(Note: These videos use the cutting-edge <video> tag from HTML 5, so they may not work for you unless you have the latest version of Firefox or another standards-compliant browser.)