[Cross-posted at Mozilla User Research]
The new tab page in Firefox is intentionally left blank, while some browsers present rich information on a newly opened tab.
- opens 11 new blank tabs
- loads 7 pages
- visits 2 unique domains
- visits 2 pages in a new tab before they leave or close it
Below are details on how a user loads a page in a new tab, their intentions when opening a new tab, and time spent on new tabs below.
How do users load a page in new tabs?
We detected 11 different methods to load a Web page in a blank tab page. Actions in the Url bar include pressing ENTER through keyboard, clicking the go button on the right side of the bar, clicking the Web page suggestions in the dropdown menu and pressing ENTER key for dropdown suggestions. Similarly 4 actions can be performed in the search bar too. Users can load a previously saved page from the bookmark bar in the toolbar or Bookmark/History in the menu bar.
- The URL bar is most used when navigating to new websites.
- The Search bar is also popular. Users rarely use search bar dropdown to look for old search terms.
- The Bookmark toolbar is used more often than the bookmark menu button.
- The History Menu button is seldom used.
We can also classify all methods for loading web pages into either keyboard-based or mouse-based category. Generally speaking, users have a slight preference for mouse usage.
Why do users open new tabs?
1. Are they looking for a specific URL?
13.95% of new tabs (13,941,404) are opened while the text in the clipboard starts with “http” or “www”, which are very likely to be URL strings. The number is surprisingly high, although it may be caused by previous actions rather than by pasting for loading a specific URL.
2. Users browse a limited set of domains, and only a small proportion of domains attract most visits
If we represent each user as a single point in the plot where x-axis is the number of pageloads, and y-axis is the number of unique domains visited, we can get the following graph. The dash line (diagonal) is what will happen if users always visit a different domain for each page load. When the users are not so active, pageloads less or around a few hundreds, the number of unique domains grows linearly. However, once users get to browse more, distinct domains tend to be stabilized and saturated.
Globally, we check the visit frequencies of all domains, and find that globally only 17.38% domains (461,133 unique domains in total) take 80% of the total page loads (8,291,541 pageloads in total). It verifies the famous “20-80” law of long tail phenomena.
On the individual level, we are interested in whether a single user performs the browsing movements according to the 20-80 law. For each individual, domains taking 80% of the total page visits is defined as “main domains”. A user can confirm the 20-80 law if the ratio of the number of his main domains to the number of distinct domains is around 20%. According to the following fig., active users browse more web pages everyday, but the number of primary sites they go to decreases proportionally. It suggests that when users visit more sites, they prefer to go to the same sites more frequently. The result supports the existence of a speed-dial new tab page to some extent.
Time Spent on New Tabs
The study is preliminary study for redesign requirement of the new tab pages in Firefox. We detect user behavior patterns of how they use the new tabs, including how they load a new page, broadness of domain visited, and the timing of different actions. In the following New Tab Multivariate Test, we will do a comparison between several designs of the new tab page, and more research questions will be answered, including whether too much information in the new tab may distract users from the original target or not.