The future of New Tab?

Divining the Future of New Tab

What’s next on New Tab for Firefox Desktop users?

New Tab has come a long way since earlier last year.

It started with rounded corners and a few tweaked buttons. Then, Directory Sites landed for new users shortly thereafter, seeding their Firefox experience with content from Mozilla and a sponsored partner. Soon, Firefox 40 Beta users will begin noticing Suggested Sites related to their browsing history, along with a restyled interface and updated page controls.

But there’s so much more to the story.

The following are some of the experiments we’ve been thinking about for New Tab later this year. All of them are focused on user control, feedback, and discovery. We hope to land many of these features; others may get tossed entirely. Ultimately, aggressive user research will help us determine which ones are worth shipping.


Experiment #1: More Control.

View the full presentation: Enhanced User Controls for New Tab on Firefox (PDF – 5.9 MB)

Deeper insights.

Transparency + control = trust. These days, everything I design is based on this formula. When it comes to Suggested Sites, users should understand why they’re seeing a particular suggestion, and have the ability to manipulate their preferences.

Interest category flyout menu
All suggestions include a corresponding interest category. Clicking the category (ex: “automotive”) reveals more controls.

Part of the solution is obvious: include appropriate labels, or explanation, where and when appropriate. Naturally, any Suggested Site will include a label. However, and more importantly, the interest category a suggestion relates to should allow for more control as well.

Interest category layover, with options
Clicking “View all categories” launches a control panel with any options available – including the option to turn off suggestions altogether.

Combined, these functions would provide users both the context and transparency we’ve been promising. (OK, it’s a start. We still have so much more to learn about this.)

Add a site of your own.

Users have been able to delete sites since New Tab’s introduction; but it was never evident how to add a site of their own. After deleting an unwanted site, it should instead be super-easy to choose a new one. Additionally, users should have the ability to see a logo, the homepage, or last page they visited.

Deleting a Suggested Site
Don’t like a suggestion? Select “Not interested” from the menu (available on rollover). Boom. Gone forever.
Add a site - default
After deleting a site, a user can add one of their own by clicking the giant “+” button. Doing so launches a new control panel.
Adding a site - defined
Once the user enters a URL in the Website field, they can then determine how the site should display on New Tab.

Top Sites get some love.

Logo or thumbnail images of destination pages may help users identify each Top Site, but what if they want to know more about their activity related to a particular site? The History feature on Firefox has always been difficult to navigate, and requires the user to engage with multiple functions of the browser.

See more information about any site on New Tab via the controls menu (available on rollover).

By selecting “About this site” from the tile control menu, a user could perhaps see information regarding the site’s purpose, the interest it relates to, and the user’s most recent browsing history – all in one view.

After clicking “About this site”, an overlay reveals the related interest category, a brief description, and all recent browsing history.

Which got me thinking: why not just put all of their history right on New Tab? Those looking for a certain, recently visited page could search via a simple dropdown, which would then list their most visited sites and corresponding browsing history.

By clicking on the clock icon, a user can view their recent browsing activity, sorted by their top destinations. Clicking on a site will reveal its full history.

Finally, no more digging! Just click and scroll.

Experiment #2: More Value.

View the full presentation: Feeds, Groups & User Feedback for New Tab on Firefox (PDF – 8.5 MB)

Feed that need.

When a new user downloads Firefox and tries New Tab, they see a bunch of Mozilla stuff. When current users view New Tab, they can see their recent sites… but not their “stuff” contained therein. If anything, they might see a single content page headline.

Not for long. One day soon, users may be able to add feeds from their favorite destinations on the Web.

Directory Sites - default view for new Firefox users
New Firefox users will see sites from Mozilla, a partner, and an empty tile. Rollover and click the “+” to “Add a site”…
The “Add a site” control panel displays. Once the user starts typing an address in the Website field, URLs are automatically suggested…
Selecting a URL populates the “tile” shown on the left. In this case, a content feed is available, and is selected by default.
Content feed added
Clicking “Save” adds the new content feed from the user’s preferred site on New Tab. Rollover the site to scroll through recent headlines.

People who want to keep a tidy New Tab, could do so. Those who prefer frequent updates from their favorite sites could find them all in one place. In this way, the user decides entirely how much – or how little – they want to see.

Interesting Groups.

If New Tab is all about getting user’s onto their next task online efficiently, then there is currently no way to organize New Tab around common tasks. Personally, I visit about 25+ different sites on any given day, but they’re all related to only a handful of core interests (car blogs, news sites, technology research, etc.).

To fix this, I imagine offering users the ability to create a “meta-group”, based on a core interest. Unlike “folders”, the group contents would become accessible “buttons” that link to their preferred sites in that category.

Click on hold a site to grab
Grouping made easy: Click and grab any tile…
Drag and drop one site onto another
Drag one site onto another to automatically create a new group.
Editing a group
After creating a new group, a control panel will display. Build the rest of the group in a single view…
Group added
Click “Save” to add the group New Tab. Done.

Essentially, this makes room for hundreds of possible destinations one could see on New Tab (not that anyone would want to). And if creating interest groups were easy, it could transform the way people use Firefox altogether.

“How did that content make you feel?”

Say a user sees a Suggested Site on New Tab. It looks interesting, so they click on it. They’re taken to a content page on a site they have never see before.

Click a suggested to see the destination page
A user sees a Suggested Site (lower left) that looks interesting. Clicking the site takes them to a destination page.

From the publisher’s perspective, the user clicked. Success!

From a user’s perspective, they’ve donated their time. Was there a payoff?

Now, after they’ve viewed that content – and after they’ve returned once again to New Tab – the user may be thinking one of two things: 1.) “Worth it!” or 2.) “Totally not worth it.”

Rating a Suggested Site
When the user opens a New Tab again, they will have the option to rate the Suggested Site they viewed.
Feedback received
If the rating is a positive, then the Suggested Site automatically becomes a History Site. In this case, a content feed is available.

Just by adding a bare-bones rating system for all Suggested Content, users would instantly have the ability to communicate something beyond their click: their actual reaction.

Creators of outstanding content experiences would be rewarded. Content which fails to meet the standards of everyday users would be flagged and purged. The ecosystem could have a real incentive to make content truly better – just by harnessing real user feedback (for FREE!).

Experiment #3: More Discovery.

View the full presentation: Combating Pervasive Boredom on Firefox New Tab (PDF – 2.1 MB)

Bursting bubbles. Finding new ones.

When you’re home, you’re comfortable. Everything is familiar. Everything is in it’s place.

That sounds terribly boring to me. I suspect others feel the same way.

The same could be said about New Tab.

New Tab - default view
Default view of New Tab. Boring.

What if New Tab could offer a break from the normal? What if it wasn’t so dang task-oriented?

What if a user wanted to experience entirely new things that were only about his or her top interests?

What if-


New Tab - CATS!
New Tab Cat takeover. Not boring.

That’s all for now. As New Tab evolves, so will the creative thinking.

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