2006-10-24

improving microsummary discoverability

For Firefox 3, in addition to investigating our feature set for control over your web experience (about which more soon), I'm also looking into useful usability and functionality improvements to Firefox's support for microsummaries.

One glaring weakness is discoverability. In Firefox 2, it's hard to know if a page you're browsing has a microsummary, since you have to open the Add Bookmark dialog to find out, and you have to grok the significance of the drop-marker in the Name field.

Feeds, by comparison, are much more discoverable, since Firefox displays the feed icon in the location bar when a page provides a feed. Perhaps a similar mechanism would be useful for microsummaries.

To find out, I put together a prototype extension which displays an icon in the location bar when a web page has a microsummary.



When you click the icon, Firefox opens the Add Bookmark dialog and selects the microsummary as the "live title" for the bookmark.



Then just select the folder you want the bookmark to be created in (f.e. the Bookmarks Toolbar) and press the Add button to add a bookmark labeled with the microsummary for the page.



The extension is now available on addons.mozilla.org. Try it out with some of these sites and generators, and let me know what you think. Does the behavior make sense? What other behavior might we associate with the icon (f.e. drag-and-drop to the bookmarks toolbar)? What should happen when there are multiple microsummaries?

Notes:
  1. The extension works in both Minefield and Firefox 2.0 and with both generated and site-provided microsummaries.
  2. The location bar icon is intentionally blank, since I have no idea what kind of graphic should represent microsummaries. I would have made it colorless, too, but then it would have been invisible.
  3. I named the extension something generic because I plan to prototype additional enhancements in future versions of it.
  4. Adding an icon to the location bar for every interesting piece of content, especially in the age of burgeoning microformats, probably won't scale, so this may well be the wrong solution for the problem.

33 comments:

Anonymous said...

I would like to be able to mouseover the icon and get the current microsummary.

--William

judy said...

I downloaded it just now from the mozilla site, and my Firefox Add-Ons dialog says this extension is not compatible with 2.0 ?!?

Myk said...

I downloaded it just now from the mozilla site, and my Firefox Add-Ons dialog says this extension is not compatible with 2.0 ?!?

That's strange. I tested it with Firefox 2 on all three platforms, and it installed fine everywhere.

Are you sure you're using 2.0 rather than some earlier version (like a 2.0 beta)? What is your user-agent string?

judy said...

ummm... i'm not sure what a user agent string is, sorry.

I downloaded 2.0 from the Firefox site this morning, and here's what it says in the "About Firefox" window:

Mozilla/5.0 (Macintosh; U; PPC Mac OS X Mach-O; en-US; rv:1.8.1) Gecko/20061010 Firefox/2.0

you can contact me directly at jjb.mac at mac.com, if you like. I would really like to use your extension :)

Andy Mabbett said...

Not directly related to the extension (for which thank you), but I can't see why the microsummary /has/ to be in an external file:

link rel="microsummary" href="index.php?view=microsummary"

and can't be in the header itself:

meta name="microsummary" content="News: Man bites dog"

which would make it trivially easy to add using say, PHP, or even in static, manually-edited HTML.

Anonymous said...

Great, I just wonder why the heck it's not made into 2.0. Anyway, I think the behaviour of your add-on should be consistent to the feed icon behaviour. When it comes to icon itself, I'd like to see a lightning, similar to flashgot add-on logo since microsummary updates your bookmarks titles like a lightning. Future? It'd be nice if, in case no microsummary is found, an option of building one appeared at bottom of the title list. Skimming of page elements would be visual with highlighting them as in e.g. Firebug's Inspector. Will you?
Thanks and good luck!

Tomas M.

P.S.: Hope, it'll make it into 3.0.

judy said...

Just re-installed the extension, and now it works.

I don't know if you changed anything, but thanks for a useful add-on!

Myk said...

Judy,

Glad to hear that it's working for you now. Incidentally, that information in the "About Firefox" window is the user-agent string. It's just a text string which identifies the browser (a.k.a. user-agent) you're using and which operating system you are using it on.


Andy,

The idea behind putting microsummaries into separate files is to reduce load on servers.

The average web page may only be 5-10K of text (not counting images, which Firefox doesn't load when updating microsummaries), but that's still a lot more than the 5-50 characters that most microsummaries comprise.

Nevertheless, for those sites willing to handle the load, it seems sensible to allow them to specify the microsummary via a meta tag (or perhaps even just by labeling the title of the page as a microsummary).

I filed bug 358105 on this issue.


Tomas M.,

This enhancement can't be in 2.0 because that version has already been released, and we're very conservative about what changes we make to our stable released products (not only after we release, but also in the last few months before the release).

Perhaps I should have implemented this earlier in the 2.0 development cycle, but besides all the other work I had to do, we also wanted to be conservative about the impact of microsummaries on the Firefox UI, since every distraction from what users are trying to do with their browsers, even minor and subtle distractions, can have a significant cost.

Now that it's early in the Firefox 3 development cycle, however, it's a good time to start experimenting with these kinds of changes to try to figure out when and how it is appropriate to notify users about microsummaries.

As for your other suggestions:

Consistency with the feed icon, where appropriate, seems like a great idea. Using a lightning graphic, on the other hand, seems liable to confuse users if the popular Flashgot extension is also using one. And the ability for users to build their own microsummaries is something I would really like to see happen!

Andy Mabbett said...

Thanks, Myk.

A few points:

The "home page" link for the extension (as seen in its properties, in FF's "add ons" dialogue) is 404.

A "changelog" would be good, for when you make updates.

Is there a uSummary logo, to use on pages?

Please feel free to add http://www.westmidlandbirdclub.com/new.htm

to the sample pages at http://people.mozilla.com/~myk/microsummaries/sites/ ;-)

I think here may be another bug - using "Sort by name" on a folder of bookmarks sorts by the page title, not the uSumamry.

Brett said...

I have downloaded and installed your extension for Firefox 2.0 and while I do get a square box when visiting woot.com , the bookmarks title that appears (in the bookmarks dialogue or on the toolbar) only reflects the main Woot title--not the price of the item, etc. Am I missing something?

Andy Mabbett said...

P.S. Why doesn't this page have a microsummary? ;-)

iod said...

I've only just recently heard of this whole microsummary thingie, and frankly, even in woot.com, I'm not sure which of the options is a microsummary, or what's the difference between them. Maybe some sort of indication in the dialog for choosing a microsummary/title for a bookmark would be helpful (say, highlighting microsummaries in the list while leaving the static title on white background.

iod

Anonymous said...

Very cool extension, the icon needs some Hicks-design on it :) And MORE SITES need to offer this, it's fantastic!
Once one installs a 'generator', how can you remove it / where are they installed to?
dan

Anonymous said...

I have problem with this extension.

The problem shows itself when doing bank stuff. The bank for security reasons only allows one simultaneous page request, otherwise the session is invalidated and you have to login again.

Unfortunately the microsummary buddy make me login and login and login...

It would save money for sure, but there will be penalties... :-D

Myk said...

Andy Mabbett said...

The "home page" link for the extension (as seen in its properties, in FF's "add ons" dialogue) is 404.

Sorry about that. I've now changed the "home page" link to point to this blog entry, since I haven't yet put together a page about it.

A "changelog" would be good, for when you make updates.

addons.mozilla.org actually provides this, although for some reason they bury the information in the "See all previous releases of this add-on." link at the bottom of the page. Here's the change log for Microsummary Buddy.

Is there a uSummary logo, to use on pages?

Not yet. I'd like there to be one, but I'm no artist, and I don't really know what the right symbol would be.

Please feel free to add http://www.westmidlandbirdclub.com/new.htm
to the sample pages at http://people.mozilla.com/~myk/microsummaries/sites/ ;-)


Thanks for the tip! I have done so.

I think here may be another bug - using "Sort by name" on a folder of bookmarks sorts by the page title, not the uSumamry.

Hmm, indeed. I have filed this as bug 358972.

Brett said...

I have downloaded and installed your extension for Firefox 2.0 and while I do get a square box when visiting woot.com , the bookmarks title that appears (in the bookmarks dialogue or on the toolbar) only reflects the main Woot title--not the price of the item, etc. Am I missing something?

The title that appears should indeed be displaying the price of the item (and its name) rather than the "Woot: One Day, One Deal" static title. You can always select the live title anyway by clicking on the down arrow at the right-hand side of the Name field, but I'd like to figure out why it isn't being selected for you automatically. Are you on the Mac and using version 0.1 by any chance? That was a problem on the Mac in that release, but it got fixed in version 0.1.1.


Andy Mabbett said...

P.S. Why doesn't this page have a microsummary? ;-)

Good question! Probably because I'm using blogger, and blogger doesn't offer them yet. :-/

iod said...

I've only just recently heard of this whole microsummary thingie, and frankly, even in woot.com, I'm not sure which of the options is a microsummary, or what's the difference between them. Maybe some sort of indication in the dialog for choosing a microsummary/title for a bookmark would be helpful (say, highlighting microsummaries in the list while leaving the static title on white background.

That's a great idea! I'll see what I can do.

Anonymous said...

Very cool extension, the icon needs some Hicks-design on it :) And MORE SITES need to offer this, it's fantastic!
Once one installs a 'generator', how can you remove it / where are they installed to?


Thanks for the kind words. Generators get installed into the "microsummary-generators" folder/directory inside your profile directory. You can remove it by deleting the generator file and restarting Firefox.

Anonymous said...

I have problem with this extension.

The problem shows itself when doing bank stuff. The bank for security reasons only allows one simultaneous page request, otherwise the session is invalidated and you have to login again.

Unfortunately the microsummary buddy make me login and login and login...


Yup, I've identified the problem and have a fix for it in version 0.1.2, which I've just uploaded to addons.mozilla.org. Hopefully that'll get approved soon and appear on the addons page for Microsummary Buddy. In the meantime, you can install the new version directly from my web site. Try it out and let me know if it fixes things for you.

Fra Diavolo said...

I created two styles for your extension to be used with Stylish

http://userstyles.org/style/show/1251

http://userstyles.org/style/show/1252

Thx Fra

Myk said...

Fra Diavolo said...

I created two styles for your extension to be used with Stylish

Thanks for the tip! Those buttons look well-designed, but I wonder whether their similarity to the icon for feeds will confuse users.

Note that someone has recently filed bug 359112 on developing a visual identity for microsummaries.

Anonymous said...

There is discussion of microsummaries on the microformats 'wiki'. Please see http://microformats.org/wiki/page-summary-formats#Microsummary and feel free to comment there.

Andy Mabbett said...

The above microformats comment was mine - I don't know why my name didn't appear!

Anonymous said...

I think this work is important for microsummaries to take off.

Some ideas:

- Perhaps a special icon (like used with RSS)_ is what's needed to identify that a page uses microsummaries.
- Certainly we need a better way of indicating that, when bookmarking a site, that there is a microsummary.
- Perhaps we could make the favicon be a 'bookmark this site' link, in which case we could put a little drop down arrow in the corner, that would indicate the presence of a microsummary.

I also think we need a better way of reloading microsummaries. We should be reloading them much more often and more automatically (e.g. when viewing bookmarks).

Ian

Ian Macfarlane said...

Also, a greek u would be the ideal icon for microsummaries!

Ian Macfarlane said...

We could also do with a method of cutting down the amount of headers sent when requesting/receiving a microsummary. Because they are so small, the headers are a big part of the traffic!

Perhaps there are some headers that are sent that don't need to be, when requesting microsummaries? (from the server is obviously not bugs that can be filed for Firefox)

Ian Macfarlane said...

Bugzilla should also support microsummaries! This is especially true as it's a project we kick out to other OSS projects, so we get instant support at both ends (browser and server) for microsumaries for something OSS developers use quite a lot... which could really help show them the benefits of them and get more widespread support for them.

I've found the bug URL (see link).

Myk said...

Ian (Macfarlane?) said:

Perhaps we could make the favicon be a 'bookmark this site' link, in which case we could put a little drop down arrow in the corner, that would indicate the presence of a microsummary.

Interestingly, the favicon is already something of a "bookmark this page" link, since you can drag and drop it onto bookmarks UI (toolbar, sidebar) to add a bookmark for the page. Your idea of overlaying the icon with a dropdown arrow to indicate the presence of a microsummary seems promising. I'll suggest it in mda.firefox and see what folks think.

I also think we need a better way of reloading microsummaries. We should be reloading them much more often and more automatically (e.g. when viewing bookmarks).

Currently you can manually reload a live title by selecting "Reload Live Title" from the bookmark's context menu. Auto-update on page load is bug 355525. As for reloading them "much more often", currently we reload them every 30 minutes by default, trading off some up-to-datedness for a lighter burden on the network. How much faster do you think they should generally load?


Ian Macfarlane said...

Also, a greek u would be the ideal icon for microsummaries!

Good point. I have added a comment regarding it to the visual identity bug.

We could also do with a method of cutting down the amount of headers sent when requesting/receiving a microsummary. Because they are so small, the headers are a big part of the traffic!

Perhaps there are some headers that are sent that don't need to be, when requesting microsummaries? (from the server is obviously not bugs that can be filed for Firefox)


I never thought of that, but it's spot on. The whole purpose of having microsummaries live at a separate URL is to minimize network traffic, so we should definitely send the minimal possible set of headers with those requests.

Bugzilla should also support microsummaries!

Yes, definitely. FWIW, there's a Bugzilla search generator.

Myk said...

There is discussion of microsummaries on the microformats 'wiki'. Please see http://microformats.org/wiki/page-summary-formats#Microsummary and feel free to comment there.

Thanks for the tip! I'll take a look and contribute my thoughts.

Andy Mabbett said...

Myk said:
As for reloading them "much more often", currently we reload them every 30 minutes by default, trading off some up-to-datedness for a lighter burden on the network. How much faster do you think they should generally load?

Why not allow sites to specify, in their uSummary file, the refresh rate? Or include a "valid until" date-time? For instance, a shop which updates its daily offer at 9am each day. could say that that uSumamry is valid until 9am the following day (not forgetting the time-zone, of course); a news site could say that their uSumamry should be checked every 10 minutes, a sport team's results page might specify an update every Saturday at 5pm.

Ian Macfarlane said...

Yes that first post by 'Ian' was me too, I ticked the wrong username before posting :|

Currently you can manually reload a live title by selecting "Reload Live Title" from the bookmark's context menu. Auto-update on page load is bug 355525. As for reloading them "much more often", currently we reload them every 30 minutes by default, trading off some up-to-datedness for a lighter burden on the network. How much faster do you think they should generally load?

Unfortunately, Firefox closes the bookmarks menu when any action is performed (unlike IE, which leaves it open for some actions). It would be helpful if it would remain open when reloading a microsummary (or live bookmark, or a number of other actions where you want to either perform a subsequent action and/or see the results of your action in the bookmarks menu).

With regards to the auto-update, sorry, I wasn't aware that they were automatically updated every 30 minutes. This seems like a bit of a waste of bandwidth if the user doesn't open their bookmarks for a long time (which I often don't - I tend to do so only sometimes - I have the bookmarks toolbar folder and Sage for RSS, so I don't tend to look at the bookmarks menu that often). Don't you think it would be more useful if they were updated when you viewed bookmarks (though perhaps if opened in, say, the last 5 minutes, not reload them again). That way, when a user looks at the bookmarks menu, they would see them updating, which would draw attention to them as well. For an example of a way of doing this, I saw the mini-RSS icon overlays done in bug 359112 which you mentioned above - these could spin or flash (they're only tiny so it wouldn't be obtrusive) when the microsummary was being loaded.

I mentioned in my email to you that they ought to have tooltips too, which displayed the entire microsummary (I saw a bug about showing the last time it was updated - with a tooltip, it could go for example on the second line of the tooltip). I really think this is worth having for Firefox 3 (though of course it may be obsoleted by other microsummaries work instead, e.g. rich content).

Finally, on a non-microsummaries note - could you make the headings of your blog posts on the front page be links to the post? I've visited several times and I still try clicking it each time :)

Myk said...

Andy Mabbett said...

Why not allow sites to specify, in their uSummary file, the refresh rate? Or include a "valid until" date-time?

That's a good idea. Note that it's already possible for sites which use generators, since the generator XML grammar includes a way to specify how often to update microsummaries. But sites which publish plaintext microsummaries are mostly out of luck, since there's no way to incorporate such metadata into the plaintext microsummary.

Sites can make Firefox update plaintext microsummaries less frequently via cache control headers, since Firefox stores microsummaries in the cache, and the microsummary service will "update" a microsummary from the cache if the cached copy is still valid. But this technique doesn't help sites which want Firefox to update microsummaries more frequently.

We should find a way to incorporate this functionality. One possibility is to add an attribute to the <link rel="microsummary"> tag which specifies the refresh rate (or the date/time at which the microsummary should expire).


Ian Macfarlane said...

Unfortunately, Firefox closes the bookmarks menu when any action is performed (unlike IE, which leaves it open for some actions). It would be helpful if it would remain open when reloading a microsummary (or live bookmark, or a number of other actions where you want to either perform a subsequent action and/or see the results of your action in the bookmarks menu).

This limitation of Firefox is unfortunate. It looks like a well-known problem, bug 195031. We should fix that for Firefox 3 (looks like it has already been nominated for blocking that release).

Don't you think it would be more useful if they were updated when you viewed bookmarks (though perhaps if opened in, say, the last 5 minutes, not reload them again). That way, when a user looks at the bookmarks menu, they would see them updating, which would draw attention to them as well.

That's an interesting idea. I tend to put my microsummarized bookmarks on the bookmarks toolbar, where they're always visible, but for bookmarks in the bookmarks menu or sidebar, which are sometimes hidden, it might make sense to hold off updating microsummaries until the user views that UI. But if we did this, and users opened the menu/sidebar specifically to check on their microsummaries, then wouldn't it be frustrating for them to have to wait for them to be updated?

I mentioned in my email to you that they ought to have tooltips too

They should already have tooltips. I'm not sure why they aren't showing up for you. Nevertheless, I agree that we should be able to take better advantage of tooltips to provide not only the complete microsummary (or even an expanded version of it) but also other relevant information like when it was last updated.

Finally, on a non-microsummaries note - could you make the headings of your blog posts on the front page be links to the post? I've visited several times and I still try clicking it each time :)

Yup, I have modified the blogger template to linkify post titles. Strangely, the template's code looked like it was linkifying them to the "external URL", but for some reason that wasn't having any effect (perhaps because I publish my blog to an external site to begin with?). I changed the code to linkify them to the "permanent URL", and that seems to work fine.

RenegadeX said...

I installed both the Microsummary Buddy and then the Microsummary Generator by Joannes la Poutre @ https://addons.mozilla.org/firefox/3741/ - which I think is a significant achievement as it allows the user to select which element on the page to use for the Live Title. Remember a while ago, I left a comment here about my eBay microsummary being far too lengthy for any use on my Bookmarks Toolbar? No more!

Actually, I'm having problems getting my microsummaries working properly but that's another matter.

What we're still missing is a way to identify sites for which we've already installed a generator and also an intuitive way to list and delete installed microsummary generators that are no longer needed.

Andy Mabbett said...

uSummaries are being discussed here and on this IRC log

Myk said...

uSummaries are being discussed here and on this IRC log

Thanks for the tip! I have responded on that wiki page on page summary formats.

Teknowledgy said...

Regarding the visual identity bug, I think the microsummary icon could be represented as 2 brackets () since people usually use them to enclose extra information or explanations which interrupt the normal progression of text. It could also be represented as (M)

sunjun said...
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