(Cross-posted from http://evilbrainjono.net)

I wrote a Thunderbird add-on to make the email interface I’ve always wanted — one that helps me remember to stay in touch with people I really care about, instead of always distracting me with the newest incoming trivia.

The add-on is called Lovebird and you can download it here.

lovebird screenshot (with fake names)

the names in this screenshot have been changed to protect the innocent

The rest of this post is about the philosophy behind Lovebird and why I designed it the way I did.

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Hey, Game On 2010 contest participants — how are those HTML 5 games coming along? I can’t wait for January 2010 when I can finally see what you’ve made.

I’ve been doing some HTML 5 experimentation of my own. What I’m working on is not a game, but it is a graphical HTML 5 webapp that uses several tricks that may be of interest to game developers. It’s easier to show it in action than to tell you about it, so watch this video (hosted on Vimeo since WordPress won’t let me embed) for a preview of Pencilbox and an explanation of how it works.

Note: this is not a Mozilla project — this is a personal project I’ve been hacking on in my free time.

I’m not yet ready to put the app itself on a public webserver where you can play with it, nor have I set up a public code repository yet. (Like I said, it’s a side project, so I haven’t had time to work on the infrastructure stuff.) When I do have it set up properly, I’ll let you know. In the meantime, here’s a tarball of the source code, which is under a Mozilla tri-license. It may be of some interest if you wish to achieve a similar effect in your Game On 2010 submission and you want to see how I did it.

Happy hacking!

I can always tell whether someone understands statistical research or not by describing Test Pilot to them. If their very first question is “What about the self-selection bias?” then they understand statistical research!

Self-selection bias is the bias that creeps into your results when the subjects of your study are people who choose to be subjects. It’s a bias because a group of people who choose to be subjects is not the same as a random sample of the population.

Amazon screenshot showing only five-star and one-star reviews

Think of product reviews on Amazon: they’re mostly 5-star reviews or 1-star reviews, because only the people who really love something or really hate it are motivated enough to write a review! If you randomly sampled the people who had read a given book, you might find that the majority of them found it mediocre – but indifferent people don’t take the time to write reviews. The self-selection of the reviewers skews the average rating.

This is the same reason why dialing random telephone numbers gives you better poll results than setting up a poll on a website – the telephone polling is (closer to) a random sample, while people who answer the website poll are self-selecting.

The relevance to Test Pilot is obvious. Only people who chose to install the Test Pilot extension or the Firefox 4 Beta get the studies; and only people who click “submit” send results back to Mozilla.

Therefore, it would be a mistake to rely only on Test Pilot submissions when redesigning Firefox UI. We’d be over-tailoring the UI to a particular subset of users, while potentially making it worse for the “silent majority” of users not represented in the sample.

Just how skewed is our sample, anyway?


The results of a survey in March 2010 (which was taken only by users of the Test Pilot extension) gave us a portrait of users who were:

  • More likely to be Linux users…
  • More likely to self-describe as “Tech-savvy”…
  • More likely to be in the 18-35 age range…
  • Much more likely to be male…
  • Likely to spend 4-8 hours a day using the Web…
  • More likely to be using Chrome in addition to Firefox…
  • Much more likely to have been using Firefox for 4 or more years…

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Alexander Limi has posted a video, from the Design Lunch three weeks ago, wherein the UX leads answered questions about their provisional redesign of the Firefox UI.

Alex wants to warn you that the contents of this video are very rough, very much a work-in-progress, and very much liable to change. You shouldn’t watch it thinking "this is how the next version of Firefox is definitely going to be". You should think of it as a behind-the-scenes look at "how the sausage gets made", in Alex’s words. He also warns:

There’s swearing, there’s mumbling, there’s ranting, there’s hand-waving, there’s political incorrectness.

I’m also in the video, playing MC in my overalls.

Today we recorded Part 2, which goes into detail about the notifications interface and the downloads manager; it should be posted fairly soon.

March 9, 2010 Update: This post is over a year old and extremely out of date! If you want the latest information about syncing your data between desktop and mobile Firefox, check out this post on the official Weave site instead.

The latest version of Weave now syncs your open tabs — and it can sync them between Firefox on the desktop and Fennec on a pocket-sized gadget.

“Syncing tabs”, by the way, doesn’t mean that we force all your browser instances to have the same set of tabs open. That’s not what anybody wants! Instead, it means that every browser has the ability to access the tabs that are open on other synced browsers, and to locally open copies of those tabs.

Here’s how it looks on Fennec. Keep in mind that this UI is a work in progress, and I’m well aware that it needs work, polish, and testing. But I’d like to let you see how it’s coming along and get your feedback on it.

fennec-weave-tabs-ui-0

On the left sidebar of Fennec, where your tabs appear, is a new Weave button. (This assumes that everyone recognizes “Rectangular Celtic knot” to mean “see my tabs from other computers”. Not a good assumption, so consider this a placeholder.)

fennec-weave-tabs-ui-1

Clicking the button slides the screen further to the left for a full-screen view of tabs from other computers. If you have more than two browsers being synced, each remote browser will have its own column here. Each column is identified with the client name. Eventually we’d like to display thumbnails of the tabs, but since we’re not syncing thumbnail data yet, we make do for now with titles and favicons.

fennec-weave-tabs-ui-2

A click on one of the remote tabs opens a local copy of it, which adds it to the tab bar, as you can see here.

Comments?

(Addendum: Here’s Madhava’s proposal for how the tab sync UI ought to work when it’s finished.)

(Addendum 2: Here’s the new and greatly improved version of the UI shown above.)

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.)

Here’s why I haven’t blogged for these many weeks — I’ve been too busy working on this:

nokia2

That’s a Nokia N810 pocket-sized internet gadget. The picture doesn’t show the screen contents very well, but if you squint at the bottom right you can barely see that there is now a “Weave” section at the bottom of the Fennec preferences screen.

I demonstrated Weave syncing on the Nokia in front of a live audience at the Labs Night last week. So far we just have bookmark sync working, and bookmarks loaded in from a desktop computer are accessible only through Fennec’s Awesome Bar, but it’s a start.

We are trying to land very basic Fennec support into the next Weave client release (which is planned for this week).

Here’s a screenshot from the Mac version of Fennec:

fennecprefs

(I know the position of the “Preferences” button is all wrong; it’s a work-in-progress.)

Currently, you can’t create a new Weave account from Fennec, only connect to an existing account. That means you have to set up the account from a computer with Weave and Firefox first, then you can connect your Fennec gadget. Here’s the connection screen:

fennec-weave-setup

I’m trying to get it down to the absolute minimum possible user interaction — even more minimal than the earlier mockup I posted. I took the advice of some commenters on my earlier post and added a button to hide/show the password/passphrase, rather than making them always visible.

I’d like to personally thank a few of the many people who helped me out with this project:

  • Stuart Parmenter and Mark Finkle for helping me understand Fennec and
    Nokia development
  • Dan “Thunder” Mills for helping me understand Weave
  • Madhava Enros for UI design discussion