Designing Firefox's search experience


(Josh) #1

The way I see it, Firefox’s UX for searching is one of its greatest weaknesses right now, especially compared to Chrome.

When I sit down at my web browser, it’s because there’s some information that I want to get from some site. Almost always, the very first thing I do is some sort of search. (Sometimes, instead, I’m checking my mail or some other webapp - but certainly, we can agree that searches are very common for all users.)

It’s not always the same search. Maybe I want to find some info on Google. Maybe I want to look up a specific Wikipedia page, or a movie on IMDB, or a video on YouTube, or something else.

Let me describe the current UX for any of these searches in Google Chrome:

  1. Type the first few letters of the address of any website in your browser history that has OpenSearch metadata.
  2. On the right side of the address bar appears the phrase "press tab to search [name of site].
    Capture3
  3. If there is more than one site that’s searchable that starts with the same prefix, I can continue typing or use the arrow keys to select a different suggestion (for example, in the screenshot, if I select “wirecutter.com” I’ll get the option to search that instead.
  4. After pressing tab, the address bar updates to make it clear that I’m searching a specific site.
    Capture4
  5. If the site’s OpenSearch metadata includes suggestions, then suggestions from that site appear in the pop-up.

All of this is basically effortless. For a few websites, this can be counter-intuitive - if I want to search MDN I have to remember to start typing “developer” instead of “mdn” since the url is “developer.mozilla.com”. But in general, it’s incredibly easy. There’s no learning curve, and new users can easily discover the feature.

Now, let’s compare it to the current UX in Firefox:

  1. On visiting a website I might want to search later, I can right-click on the search box and choose “Add a keyword for this search…”. The discoverability of this feature for new users is low.
  2. When I click “Add a keyword,” Firefox counter-intuitively brings up the “New Bookmark” window. I have to choose a place to save this bookmark, even though it’s not a “real” bookmark and I will probably never want to open it manually, or see it along with my other bookmarks. This is baggage from the way Firefox first implemented search keywords many years ago.
  3. I have to choose my own keyword to use. This adds a little bit more unnecessary effort to the creation process, but at least it’s just once per site.
  4. More significantly, I have to remember which keyword I chose. This adds to my cognitive load every time I search.
  5. Keywords are not suggested by the awesome bar. If I don’t remember whether I set my wikipedia keyword to “w”, “wi”, or “wiki”, I have to keep adding letters while watching the results until “Search with wikipedia” appears.
  6. The search does not use suggestions from the site being searched. Instead, if I type “wiki bill” as above, I see google search suggestions (or my default search engine) for the phrase “wiki bill,” instead of wikipedia suggestions for “bill.”
  7. If I want to search my default search engine for “a wrinkle in time,” and I type that into the awesome bar, but I forget that I previously set “a” as my search keyword for “amazon,” I’m not going to get the expected result. Note that this won’t happen in Chrome, because chrome uses the whole domain as the keyword, though in practice because of tab-completion the user only has to type 1-2 characters of it.

In summary, Firefox has a long way to go to make its web searching experience anywhere near as nice as the competition’s. Let’s make something better!