community, flock, request

Window Size and the Usefulness of the Shelf

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..
vera_: Ah.
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
daryl: Right.
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
senatorhatty: *nod*

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):

  1. Do you actually use the shelf? (If not, why not?)
  2. 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.)
  3. 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.

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11 thoughts on “Window Size and the Usefulness of the Shelf

  1. “It’s me again, Margaret!” I am using Win XP and I usually run my browser maximized for the reasons you mentioned. I want to see as much of the displayed text as I can. I also frequently use the Ctrl-+ to increase the font size when I am reading something that is lengthy. For the same reasons, I often choose the printer friendly version of web pages, if available, to eliminate the distraction of the ads and particularly the animated flash ads that some web sites insist on using.

    For those reasons, I find the topbar to be a very satisfactory solution for my use, and I *do* use the shelf a lot. Since your recent post, I’ve begun using the notes facility more than I had previously. Just this morning, I noted several things about the Shelf I’d like to see added. Since you are in the process of obtaining feedback, let me provide those ideas here.

    The Shelf needs an “options” configuration window where a user can make it his or her own. For instance, the time field is ridiculously long. I know where I live and in what time zone, so I should be able to set the time and date display to simply say 3/9/06 16:27 EST rather than have it tell me that the time I’m displaying is “GMT-0500 Eastern Standard Time.” So I should have the option to choose that format.

    Secondly I’d like to be able to toggle it to occupy more of the window in the same way that the Maps topbar can be toggled. So that functiionality would be a nice option.

    And since we are providing options, why not enable people to choose any of your 4 options with one of them being the default. That way, no matter what platform it is being used on, the user can put it at the top, the bottom, on the side, or as a free floating window?

    Also I’d like to be able to temporarily increase or decrease the font size in that window. Or I’d like to be able to have the “content” column temporarily occupy the entire line on which it is listed, through a toggle perhaps.

    I hope you find these ideas address your questions and provide some stimulus for how you might improve what I think is a very useful feature of Flock. If I think of other things, I’ll post another comment, because I feel that as I think about these questions, other ideas will come to me. The key though, I think, is to provide settings that are optional, perhaps in the Flock preferences section.

  2. Heh. I’ve never thought about why I maximize/don’t maximize. FYI. I have two laptops at work. My main pc runs 1680 x 1050 and I don’t run my apps maxed. I also run several dotWidget widgets down the right side of the screen and a MacOS like dock at the bottom. My personal laptop runs 1280 x 800 and I run apps full screen on that. I just have the extra space on my main PC, so I’m willing to sacrifice some of my main workspace for cool extras like a photo album of my kids.
    As for the Shelf, I’m a big fan of putting it on the topbar. I only run Flock on my personal laptop maximized, so the popup window would be less efficient to use. I’m not sure I like adding a “bottom bar” to the equation. I kind of agree with perry as well, choice might be a good thing, as long as those choices don’t start to confuse the user.
    I’d like to suggest another idea as well. I’m kind of stealing this from the way the Bookmark Bar can work in Lotus Notes. One of the things I find mildly annoying about the Shelf (and My Blogs too) is that when I find something on a page I want to add to the Shelf, I have to click on the Topbar menu, select the Shelf, then go back and drag whatever it was. It’d be nice if I could just grab whatever that item is (since my mouse is usually right by that text or picture already), and drag it over an icon or something that would then slide the Shelf open (like your idea for the bottom bar).
    In Notes, the Bookmark Bar has a thumb tack icon in the bookmarks slider that allows you to “tack” the slider open after it slides out. If you don’t “tack” the slider, it will collapse when you click in your main workspace again. This setting is persistent. A close icon (little X box) allows you to manually close the slider whether it’s “tacked” open or not. When the slider isn’t “tacked,” you can work in the slider window (editing bookmark properties and order) until you click back in the main workspace, at which point the slider window automatically collapses. Hope I explained that well enough. Sorry for the long post, but I guess you asked for it. 😉

  3. Mike P says:

    Hey guys – first time poster, short time reader.

    I’m using OS X 10.4, and I do use the shelf quite a bit, although I’m not too big a fan of the interface w/ the top bar. It might be a factor of being a laptop user, but i hate having to go up to the top bar and selecting the shelf manually and then selecting it off.

    I don’t maximize windows, but just keep them as big as they need to be to optimize the webpage. I do think though, that the shelf as it stands is a bit of a waste of screen realestate. The top bar is great for collections and the photobrowser, but I’m not sure what benefit having the width of the window is for a horizontally based list. (Maybe two columns?)

    I’d like to have something that pops up when dragged into (a side bar might be best in my opinion – so you can see more of the list). At least I’d like have a keyboard short cut to bring it up so cut down on needless Carpal Tunnel.

  4. Answer to your questions:

    1. No, I don’t use the Shelf. I didn’t know what it was until I read your post this morning, I think it was. In my opinion, few people know what Shelf is all about.

    2. I like it to be at the Topbar. It is very accessible there, just like Maps, Photo Browsers, Photo Uploader and Technorati.

    3. I use my browser maximized. My Operating System is Windows XP Home Edition, with SP2 installed. I want to have ample vision of what I’m doing. I don’t like to see a cluttered screen that will distract my attention of what I’m doing. Composing a post requires concentration, especially if it’s a complex subject including text and images.

    I trust I’ve answered your questions appropriately.

    Regards,

    Omar.-

  5. My response:
    1. Yes, though less since it has been made a topbar. For text items, being laid out in a top/bottom list mode feels awkward to me.

    And how do I drag photos from photo browser to the shelf?

    2. I look forward to the day when the shelf and the blog editor are the same thing work area.

    I do not like mousing to the bottom of the screen. I prefer things on the left or top.

    It is not clear to me what differentiates “a collapsed bottom bar” with “some sort of slidey drawer”, but terms like collapsed and slidey sounds promising 😉

    3.For a heavy Flickr user, Flock begs to be viewed in full screen. This allows the most photos to be shown in the topbar.

    Feedback receive at feedback@flock.com:
    1. Not many people mention the shelf in feedback, though early on it was often cited as Flock’s best feature.
    3. The majority of feedback is from people on MSWin, and few Linux users.

    PS. “Take even photoshop, for example.”, even? If I can think of any class of app that begs to be maximized it is an image editing application.

  6. 1. I use the shelf as often as I use Flock (not too much right now unfortunaely, because I use a browser mostly at work, where I’m not interested in blogging). The Shelf is one of my favorite Flock features. I often go about writing blog posts by first scouring the web for “references” these can be block quotes, but most often they’re just websites which explain various topics. I like the way that you can store block quotes in the shelf and then pull them in with a refference. I wish you could also drag over entire URLs… and then be able to drag those back into the blogging window – have it ask me for the words of the hyperlink and BAM insert it. That would be cool. =) maybe I could even put in the words for the hyperlink when I drag the URL to the shelf in the first place? That way I’d have a plain English description of what the URL actually is.

    2. I think the best option is the “Put it in a collapsed bottom bar that appears when you drag into the area.” That way it can remain hidden while I pour info into it, and then can enlarge (or maybe popup?) later when I want to pull info out of it.

    3. I am lucky enough to have large monitors at both work and home. I use OSX at work, and do not maximize my browser windows… they’re pretty much maximized, but definitely some margin around the edges of the screen. I do this becuase they really don’t need to be any bigger! I have also occaisionally had Konfabulator widgets open around my browser, and I don’t like to have overlapping information.

    At home, I use WinXP. I used to maximize my windows always, because I had a 15″ monitor. Then I got a new 20″ widescreen, and I no longer maximize windows. Sometimes I purposefully un-maximize browser windows, because if they have fluid layouts with no max-width, the extremely long lines of text are obnoxious to read.

  7. I’m still not a full time flocker, mostly because of issues with blogger. Nothing seems to work well with blogger, but performancing is behaving better than most at the moment.

    When the shelf was a window, it was a pain for me on windows. As soon as I click to drag, it fell behind the window. I run full screen on most all apps, and my laptop is 1024 – where I blog most. Even when I have the space, apps like photoshop with their mac floaty windows annoy me, too many years of linux and windows.

    The shelf topbar is better, but still I don’t like it taking up so much space when surfing. I do like sliders from the side, so I would like an ever present shelf on the side that slides out when I drag near.

    Also, why do i need the shelf present to add to it? I want to select text and hit Alt+S to Add to Shelf. An icon in the lower right would be great as well for a context menu to the shelf. I feel the shelf can set flock apart and deserves more space than just another topbar. Flick works great as a top bar, but the shelf doesn’t feel right to me there.

  8. Thanks to everyone for the feedback.

    Mike P: it’s a bit long, but you do have a shortcut to show the Shelf: “Ctrl+Shift+t” then “s”

    Mike: you don’t have to display the Shelf to add items, you can just do a right-click then “Send to Shelf”

  9. Daryl:

    This is an example of things people don’t know about Shelf. The context option has been there but very few people knew about its existence.

    In my opinion, more “spreading of the word” is needed to make people use Flock’s features.

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