As usual there was a tremendous amount of research exploring the interface of Web browsers (and usually implemented on top of Firefox) at this year’s CHI conference in Atlanta. Here is a quick overview of some of the work. Of the 10 papers studying or modifying Firefox, the main theme this year was content sharing and rich web history, which about half of the papers explored.
1) Sharing and History
Eyebrowse: Real-Time Web Activity Sharing and Visualization
Max Van Kleek, Christina Xu, Brennan Moore, David R. Karger
In this paper,we explore the potential for letting users automatically track and selectively publish their web
browsing activities in real time on the Web. We developed a system, Eyebrowse, with three goals: first, to provide a means for individuals to better understand how they spend time on the web through visualizations and statistics; secondly, to foster social discovery and awareness through real-time web activity sharing;and finally, to build a large public corpus of web browsing trails using this method. We gathered user impressions of Eyebrowse, including perceived usefulness, feelings of self-exposure,and privacy concerns, for ascertaining ways to improve the system.
Here’s What I Did: Sharing and Reusing Web Activity with ActionShot
Ian Li, Jeffrey Nichols, Tessa Lau, Clemens Drews, Allen Cypher
ActionShot is an integrated web browser tool that creates a fine-grained history of users’ browsing activities by continually recording their browsing actions at the level of interactions, such as button clicks and entries into form fields. ActionShot provides interfaces to facilitate browsing and searching through this history, sharing portions of the history through established social networking tools such as Facebook, and creating scripts that can be used to repeat previous interactions at a later time. ActionShot can also create short textual summaries for sequences of interactions. In this paper, we describe the ActionShot and our initial explorations of the tool through field deployments within our organization and a lab study. Overall, we found that ActionShot’s history features provide value beyond typical browser history interfaces. share interesting web pages that they found. However, these web sites only allow people to share the URLs of individual pages. If people want to share what they did on a web site, they have to write it down manually, which can be so tedious that they forego sharing the information. Social scripting services such as CoScripter  allow users to record and share interactions with websites, but these tools require forethought and planning to enable recording at the right time to capture a reusable script. Moreover, CoScripter’s one-to-all sharing model was found to deter many users , who asked for finer grained control over with whom they shared their scripts. An enhanced browser history could solve these problems, letting users easily grab sequences and share them with the desired audience.
A Task-focused Approach to Support Sharing and Interruption Recovery in Web Browsers
Mohan Raj Rajamanickam, Billy Lam, Russell MacKenzie, Tao Su
Over the last two decades a vast number of services have moved online, and many new services have been created. Previous work shows that many users are overloaded by the number of webpages they use simultaneously. We introduce TabFour, a prototype web browser which integrates three features that address the design requirements identified in an initial design study. Webpages can be grouped into tasks, providing a unified target for resumption after an interruption. Tasks and pages can be annotated, supporting resumption after longer intervals. Finally, tasks can be shared through a simple yet novel web-service, allowing users to share groups of webpages more easily than with existing tools.
Enhancing Directed Content Sharing on the Web
Michael S. Bernstein, Adam Marcus, David R. Karger, and Robert C. Miller
To find interesting, personally relevant web content, people rely on friends and colleagues to pass links along as they encounter them. In this paper, we study and augment link-sharing via e-mail, the most popular means of sharing web content today. Armed with survey data indicating that active sharers of novel web content are often those that actively seek it out, we developed FeedMe, a plug-in for Google Reader that makes directed sharing of content a more salient part of the user experience. FeedMe recommends friends who may be interested in seeing content that the user is viewing, provides information on what the recipient has seen and how many emails they have received recently, and gives recipients the opportunity to provide lightweight feedback when they appreciate shared content. FeedMe introduces a novel design space within mixed-initiative social recommenders: friends who know the user voluntarily vet the material on the user’s behalf. We performed a two-week field experiment (N=60) and found that FeedMe made it easier and more enjoyable to share content that recipients appreciated and would not have found otherwise.
Enabling Cross-Device Interaction With Web History
Timothy Sohn, Koichi Mori, Vidya Setlur
Internet-enabled personal devices are growing in number. As people own and use more devices, sharing information between devices becomes increasingly important. Web browsing is one of the most common tasks, thus sharing web history is a first step in supporting cross-device interaction. Current methods of sharing web history involve manual, cumbersome methods. This paper explores a system to automatically synchronize web information among a user’s personal devices, and optimize the interface to support mobile users. We describe a system that enables users to quickly find directions on their mobile phone based on past web searches, and seamlessly share favorite web pages between their personal devices.
2) Tabbed Browsing and Tasks
A Study of Tabbed Browsing Among Mozilla Firefox Users
Patrick Dubroy, Ravin Balakrishnan
We present a study which investigated how and why users of Mozilla Firefox use multiple tabs and windows during web browsing. The detailed web browsing usage of 21 participants was logged over a period of 13 to 21 days each, and was supplemented by qualitative data from diary entries and interviews. Through an examination of several measures of their tab usage, we show that our participants had a strong preference for the use of tabs rather than multiple windows. We report the reasons they cited for using tabs, and the advantages over multiple windows. We identify several common tab usage patterns which browsers could explicitly support. Finally, we look at how tab usage affects web page revisitation. Most of our participants switched tabs more often than they used the back button, making tab switching the second most important navigation mechanism in the browser, after link clicking.
Blog Post with the presentation
Multitasking Bar: Prototype and Evaluation of Introducing the Task Concept into a Browser
Qing Wang, Huiyou Chang
This paper clarifies two common patterns of multitasking on the Web, namely Multiple Tasks (MT) and Multiple Session Task (MST). To support both of these, the task concept needs to be introduced into a browser. An online pilot survey has revealed which attributes of the task concept are most significant to Web users and as a result a simple prototype, the Multitasking Bar (MB), is proposed based on these findings. The MB copes with the multitasking needs of both MT and MST in the browser by providing functions for task related Web page management and task schedule management. A two-session controlled experiment has been conducted to evaluate the MB and to compare user performance and experience when multitasking on the Web with and without support for MT and MST. Results show that support for both MST and MT significantly improves user task performance efficiency and greatly enhances the user experience when multitasking on the Web.
3) Improving the Interface
Enhancing Web Page Readability for Non-native Readers
Chen-Hsiang Yu, Robert C. Miller
Readers face many obstacles on today’s Web, including distracting content competing for the user’s attention and other factors interfering with comfortable reading. On today’s primarily English-language Web, non-native readers encounter even more problems, even if they have some fluency in English. In this paper, we focus on the presentation of content and propose a new transformation method, Jenga Format, to enhance web page readability. To evaluate the Jenga Format, we conducted a user study on 30 Asian users with moderate English fluency and the results indicated that the proposed transformation method improved reading comprehension without negatively affecting reading speed. We also describe Froggy, a Firefox extension which implements the Jenga format.
Cookie Confusion: Do Browser Interfaces Undermine Understanding?
Aleecia M. McDonald
We performed a series of in-depth qualitative interviews with 14 subjects recruited to discuss Internet advertising. Participants held a wide range of views ranging from enthusiasm about ads that inform them of new products, to resignation that ads are “a fact of life,” to resentment of ads that they find “insulting.” We discovered that many participants have a poor understanding of how Internet advertising works, do not understand cookies, and mistakenly believe there are legal protections barring companies from sharing information they collect online. We found that participants have substantial confusion about the results of the actions they take within their browsers, and do not understand the technology they work with now. The user interface for cookie management in popular browsers may be contributing to confusion.
Remote Web Browsing via the Phone with TeleWeb
TeleWeb is an assistive voice-enabled application empowering users to remotely access the Web through the most ubiquitous device – the phone. The uniqueness of the technology is that it enables users to gain access to information from almost anywhere via a plain, old-fashioned telephone. TeleWeb users will be able to call their own personal numbers, authenticate themselves, and then use speech and phone key-pad to remotely browse the Web on their own PCs. TeleWeb may especially appeal to people with vision loss, as well as older adults who may find the phone interface to be more familiar and easier to use. In this paper, I describe the TeleWeb approach and the interface.
It was really great to see so many brilliant people thinking about Firefox and the Web in general. In fact there were so many papers covering topics related to Firefox that I often had to jump between session running concurrently in order to catch everything. It’s also exciting to see that even outside of the scope of Mozilla Labs there is a really broad range of research going on in the academic community exploring the potential future of the Web.