April 23, 2008

Unintended awesomeness

I ran into a very useful and satisfyingly simple use of the awesomebar today that I think is at the edge of what it was originally intended for. I wanted to create a new Google Docs document, so I opened a new tab and was about to start typing some terms to navigate to the site. I stopped, though, and tried out a little experiment:

I typed "new document" into the awesomebar, and there, in first place, was what looked like a promising link. I selected it, and got the following:

In other words, I was delivered directly to my real goal — not navigating to the front page of the Google Docs site, but to the "new document" I was trying to create. What's interesting, and newly possible through the awesomebar, is that I could find the appropriate link. Clearly I'd been there before, but I never would have remembered this kind of interstitial non-manually-typed-in URL. It helps, of course, that the URL/command in question uses actual human-language words.

As a result, I have functionality similar to a "New Document" button in my browser without having Yet Another Button on the screen, and the browser becomes an even more sophisticated intermediary between me and my online life than it was before.

Incidentally, Dria's written a great overview of the Awesomebar in Firefox 3. If you're interested in what else you can get out of this new feature, go read it!

Posted by madhava at 01:40 PM | Comments (4)

April 15, 2008

AMO 3.2 - the road ahead

Morgamic and Basil have both posted about post-release feedback to AMO 3.2 and how we're responding to it. To echo both of them, we owe a big thank you to everyone out there who, in blog comments, emails, or forum posts, took the time to remind us of things we'd missed, voiced concerns, or told us where we were on the right track.

I think the key to the theme of what we're working on for 3.2.1 and in 3.4 emerges from Morgamic's list of AMO's varied roles:

  • A place where new users try to find add-ons to improve their browsing experience
  • A hub for advanced users to pick up on the latest and greatest add-ons
  • An incubator for new features
  • A place where developers can get feedback and statistics for their add-on
  • A tool we use to help QA popular extensions and ensure they meet quality and security guidelines

In the 3.2 redesign, our goal was to improve the experience for users in the first scenario on that list — people new to the idea of add-ons as well as the large and growing set of people who want to stop in, quickly find something to improve their online experience, and be on their way again. This constituency has, I think, been under-served in the past, which is the reason for their priority here and also for the coincident additions in Firefox 3 (the recommendations in the Get Add-ons tab, for example, should help to get new users started and oriented and also drive some new traffic to AMO). It's in this light that we made a number of the AMO changes, such as the more prominent search field, a deliberately trimmed down set of initial details about an add-on, the grouping of add-ons by purpose rather than implementation type, and by having the install buttons stop you before you've installed an add-on that won't work. My sense is that we've made positive strides for these users, though it will be some time before we can tell to what degree — figuring out ways to measure this with an audience we won't hear from directly is one of the tasks ahead.

All of that said, AMO exists equally for its other four listed roles. A successful AMO must, axiomatically, support add-on developers and those advanced users who are at the forefront of add-on testing and reviewing. It's worth noting, as well, that these sets of needs are not entirely orthogonal; in the same way that AMO being easy for casual users helps add-on developers by multiplying the latter's ability to reach a large audience, a site that's efficient for advanced users and developers is one that is more likely to be host to many great add-ons for casual users. More directly, in the redesign, making the add-on rating interface more prominent and listing experimental add-ons to everyone are changes that benefit both groups. The trick is addressing the needs of these two (or more!) very different audiences in ways such that neither's experience is diminished.

Basil's post included a summary of the top concerns we're seeing, especially from advanced add-on users and developers. 3.2.1 and 3.4 will see many of these addressed, especially in cases where we've made their use-cases less straightforward by hiding information that they find necessary but that confuses or distracts new users.

  • In some cases, information that was pruned is making its way back in, placed to be, hopefully, findable by those who want it, but not overbearing to those who need not be concerned about it. Like putting compatibility ranges and access to all versions (for all OSes) back in:

    Or adding more visible access to feeds of new and featured add-ons:

  • In other cases, we can address particular audiences by taking advantage of a logged-in state. For example, we can let advanced users disregard safeguards that don't really apply to them (the link enables the button):

  • We're also refining categorization, including undoing some category merging that just didn't end up working, as in the Themes & Appearance category. There will be a category called "Themes" once again that will be solely and entirely about themes.

And, alongside all of this, Fligtar's amazing work on improving the usability of AMO's developer tools continues as well.

You can check out the preview site as we work on these issues — everything we change changes there first. Beyond this, too, please do keep the feedback coming, both in terms of the recent redesign, but also about how the site can better serve advanced users and developers. In some cases, there may have been ways of doing things on AMO that became more difficult after the redesign, but where the previous method hadn't been ideal either. Are there things you're trying to do that could be more straightforward?

Posted by madhava at 03:04 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack