We’re trying something new with the “Week in the Life” Test Pilot study. Instead of running just once per user, it will automatically recur about once every two months (60 days, to be precise) and run for one week each time. The idea is to let it recur over the course of a year, and see whether we can detect any long-term trends in the data that would indicate user habits changing over time. For instance, a lot of us who work in web browsers have a hunch that our users are using bookmarks less, and tabs more, compared to a few years ago. But does the data actually support this?

Because the “Week in the Life” study recurs, and because we never submit any data without the user’s explicit permission, we’ve got a potential user experience problem: Test Pilot is going to ask you whether you want to submit the data from the study every time it recurs. Do you want to submit the data? Do you want to submit the data? How about now? How about now, huh? How about that data, do you want to submit it?

Isn’t it annoying being asked the same question over and over again?

To mitigate this problem, I’ve added a new UI widget to the Test Pilot status page:

Menu with three choices: Ask me whether I want to submit my data; Always submit my data, and don't ask me about it; never submit my data, and don't ask me about it

The principle of “Don’t pester the user” is important, but so is the principle of “Make sure you have the user’s permission before doing anything with their data”. These principles are natural enemies. Finding a compromise between them is not easy! I know that my little drop-down menu is not a perfect solution. What do you think? Is it self-explanatory enough? Too wordy? Is there a better approach to this problem?

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Mozilla Labs is working on porting Weave
(our data-syncing extension) to Fennec (our version of Firefox for cell-phones and other handheld gadgets). Weave is still experimental, Fennec is still experimental, so as you can imagine, Weave-in-Fennec is still in the early planning stages. But here’s why it’s going to be cool:

Imagine you’re looking at a map in Firefox on your computer, finding the directions to your sci-fi convention (or whereever you’re going).

An hour later, you’re standing on the sidewalk in an unfamiliar city, and you need to double-check those directions. Oh no! You forgot to print out a copy! You’re lost! What do you do?

Lucky for you, you have a cell phone with Fennec and Weave on it. You open up Fennec and your map is already there, waiting for you, because Weave automatically synced your open tabs between your desktop Firefox and your Fennec. There’s no need to put your phone in an awkward cradle-thing connected to your computer to sync it up manually, nor do you have to fiddle with BlueTooth settings,
because syncing happens through a server, and it happens automatically whenever you’re online.

Besides tabs, you’ll have access to any other type of browser data that you choose to sync, too — like bookmarks, history, cookies, stored passwords, etc. Syncing goes both ways, so all the names and phone numbers from your cell-phone contact list can be synced back to your desktop computer, too.

I’ve been working on a user-interface design proposal for Weave on Fennec. Weave mostly works invisibly, without user input, but there are a few places where interaction is needed. Since I know that typing in text can be painful on a mobile phone, I’ve tried to keep the amount of text-input required down to the absolute minimum. In the places where I’ve had to introduce new screens and new interactions, I’ve tried to make them a logical extension of Fennec’s existing touch-screen, finger-gesture-based UI.

By the way, if you want to try out Fennec, you can download it here. It’s an alpha version, so no guarantees of anything, OK? But there are versions for Mac/Windows/Linux as well as for mobile devices, so you can run it in a window on your desktop computer and pretend you’re squinting at a tiny cell-phone screen.

The UI Proposal itself is here. It’s a very detailed document aimed mainly at the audience of developers and contributors to Weave and Fennec, so if you have only a casual interest, you might want to just skim it.