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New Firefox Designs Rethink Browser Bookmarks

Mozilla’s lead designer believes it’s time to rethink the way people browse bookmarks in Firefox. Taking a cue from the way favorite pages are displayed in other web browsers, he has proposed that future versions of Firefox should include a way to access your bookmarks and browsing history directly from the home tab — without a sidebar, and without a new window.

Of course, Firefox 3.0 completely changed the way we access our bookmarks, browsing history and other data by making all that information available through the “Awesome bar,” the smart URL location bar at the top of the browser window. It doubles as a search box — type a phrase, a word or even just a letter and Firefox can quickly find the web page you’re looking for. It is a powerful piece of testimony about how much search has shaped our expectations on the web.

But when it comes to browsing your bookmarks and history, Firefox remains largely unchanged since the the browser first launched years ago. Sure, there’s some new tagging features and a slightly slicker interface, but the basic premise — opening a sidebar to access your history or your bookmarks in a list — is the same in Firefox 3.5 as it was in Firefox 1.0.

Mozilla’s Principal Designer for Firefox, Alex Faaborg, says it’s time to rethink the whole experience.

“We want users to be able to navigate from the home tab into the bookmark folders and tags that they have specifically created,” Faaborg writes in a recent blog post.

What that means, from an interface design standpoint, is that future versions of Firefox will likely include a way to get to your bookmarks directly from the home tab, not through a sidebar, and not inside a new window. Your bookmarks, visually speaking, become part of the web, what Faaborg calls “your own personal web.”

To understand what Faaborg is getting at, consider the two basic ways you can find what you’re looking for on a computer: browsing and searching. The Awesomebar falls in the searching category, while your bookmarks, whether viewed as a list in a drop-down menu or in a sidebar panel is a browsing interface.

Faaborg is simply suggesting that there are better ways of browsing than drop down menus and sidebars.

Faaborg’s early mockups for a revamped bookmark experience in Firefox look very similar to the start page popularized by Opera’s Speed Dial feature. That is, a grid view of your bookmarked sites with thumbnail previews and URLs. A similar approach has been adopted by Apple’s Safari and Google Chrome.

The difference in this case is that while Speed Dial and its clones display your most frequently visited sites, Faaborg’s design shows all your bookmarks.

The advantage of a Speed Dial-type interface for bookmarks isn’t just ease of access and speed, it also means getting to your bookmarks could be as simple as hitting the back button. For example, if you were browsing your bookmarks as a thumbnail list and you clicked through to read a site, hitting the back button would return you to the thumbnails page.

Arguably the sidebar allows you to do something similar — clicking from one site to the next. But the sidebar hogs screen real estate and if Jakob Nielsen taught us nothing else, he certainly proved that the back button is fundamental UI element of the web.

Faaborg’s proposed interface doesn’t just add the back button to the mix, it also has a huge potential when hooked up to Weave, Mozilla’s still experimental syncing tool for Firefox. Imagine being able to sit down at any PC, sign in to Weave and have a browsable display of your bookmarks appear at your finger tips. Of course, as Faaborg acknowledges, there are some privacy hurdles Weave would need to work out before that scenario is a reality, but the plumbing is there.

There’s no guarantee that these mock-ups will make it into the next version of Firefox, but regardless of when they arrive, we’re looking forward to having better ways of accessing our bookmarks.

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