In spite of things I’ve blogged about the shelf here and here, I really don’t aspire to be the shelf user interaction guru. My use cases in general tend to be rather at odds with the sort of user interaction that
web 2.0 current trends seem to favor, in fact. Nevertheless, Anthony did me the courtesy today of soliciting my feedback on a possible shelf relocation. Here are some options:
- Keep it in a topbar.
- Put it in a collapsed bottom bar that appears when you drag into the area.
- Make it a little popup window, as before (note that Erwan built an extension that will do this currently).
- Let it exist as both a topbar and a popup window.
- Put it in some sort of slidey drawer.
Some background might be useful here. Way way way back before what became Flock was ever even going to be a browser, the shelf was a sidebar. Later, it became a popup window. This was problematic for many users, especially those using Windows or Linux. The experience was less than ideal if you happened to run your browser maximized (as many Windows and Linux users do). And it was made worse by the fact that, at the time, the blog editor also opened in a new window. Focus among the windows was a real problem. Say you had your main browser maximized and invoked the shelf. When you clicked in the browser to drag something, the shelf would disappear behind the main window, and the only way to drag to it was to drag to the shelf’s placeholder in the taskbar and to hover there until the shelf jumped to the front, and then to drag into the shelf. The other option was to run your browser in a non-maximized configuration. (There was some problem, the nature of which I forget, with having the shelf window be always raised.) Neither of these options was ideal for me, and until the shelf became a topbar, I quit using it. Some of us were discussing this in irc today, and Vera asked why we Windows and Linux users tend to maximize our windows.
daryl: It gets in the way too, and there are focus issues on linux and windows, iirc
daryl: That is, if you have the shelf open in a popup and click on the main window, the shelf goes behind the main window and you have to drag to the task bar to make the shelf pop up and then drag onto the shelf.
daryl: Mac users often have space out to the sides of their windows where the shelf can coexist peacefully with the main browser windows, but linux and pc users seem more frequently to work in maximized or nearly-maximized mode.
daryl: I think alwaysraised works on windows and not on linux is another issue.
vera_: Daryl: any idea why linux and windows users work that way? I’ve been wondering.
daryl: vera_, I dunno. For me it’s something about maximizing workspace.
vera_: It seems so crowded..
daryl: I don’t use my desktop to store or manipulate files, so I want every pixel I can salvage to be used for viewing content.
senatorhatty: the reason I run windows maximized is that most apps have an optimal set of dimensions for being able to see/use the tools and workspace
senatorhatty: but I don’t know what that set of dimensions is
daryl: Take even photoshop, for example.
daryl: You’ve got all those palettes floating around your content area.
daryl: The more space the app takes on the screen, the more of your content area you can work with b/c the palettes are floating farther from the center of the workspace grid.
senatorhatty: the solution of having a toolbar that takes up wht top of the screen when the app has focus even if the apop isnt maximized is a nice one
daryl: It’s all about pushing utility to the periphery so that you can focus on the main event/content
For me, the question is inverted. How can Mac users possibly stand to be so free with their workspace? How can you bear to have even a sliver of desktop visible around the margins of your applications? You can’t even maximize to full screen size on a Mac without changing your default dock settings, if I recall correctly. And yet every Mac user I’ve ever watched keeps lots of space out to the sides of the browser. Such space rendered the old popup version of the shelf pretty usable and comfortable on the Mac for all its failings under Linux and Windows.
As unofficial solicitor of feedback on the interaction design for the shelf, I have three questions (and some sub-questions):
- Do you actually use the shelf? (If not, why not?)
- Of the options given in the bulleted list above, which would you find the most useful way of getting at the shelf? Or is there another? (If there’s another, please describe it but also note a preference from among the ones I described.)
- Do you run your browser maximized or in some middle-sized state? What OS do you use? And why do you choose the size you do?
I’ve gotten some good feedback on my shelf entries in the past, and I’ve gotten some good feedback in particular when I’ve directly asked for it. So, I’m asking.