20 February 2009 - 8:09Who Are You? Stop Asking Me!

Are you asked to sign-in to websites often? “Remember me” doesn’t seem to always work..
Do you have many user names? At least sites let you use your email address nowadays..
Have you forgotten your password? Saved by password manager..?
Is your password hard to hack? But I’m too lazy to make/remember a stronger password…

Google's account troubleshooter

Google's account troubleshooter

Why do websites have sign-in forms anyway?

I suppose the site just wants to ask “who are You?” Signing in lets you personalize your experience on the site. Let You get to the stuff You want. That’s just some of the benefits for the user.

For the website, it wants to make sure it only gives your stuff to you and not some random person that’s also using the site. One way to ensure that is to “challenge” you by making you answer something that hopefully only you know.. like your username and password.

But what if the browser you’re using already knows that you are You?

Instead of challenging You to see if you happen to remember your username and password, the website could challenge your browser to prove that it’s You. Now you don’t need to worry about forgetting your password or username. You don’t need to worry about having a weak password either because computers are good at remembering and calculating complex stuff.

But that’s not all! One very useful aspect is that you wouldn’t even need to sign in to websites anymore!

The challenges that site asks to prove that you’re You can be made in a way that only your web client can answer them. So when you go back to the website, it already knows who you are, and nobody else can pretend to be you. And this is only if you let your client tell the site.

Even better is that you don’t even need to create an account on the website! :)

You can start using and personalizing your experience on a site without first going through the user creation process. Because the site knows that only you can be You, you can focus on getting a better experience now and later go through the nitty gritty details of providing a name, contact information, etc. if necessary.

Use the site first, create an account later

Use the site first, create an account later

For example, if you’re using a site to purchase items, e.g., stuff for a house or even a house, you could make notes on items without first creating an account. Next time you visit, the site already knows it’s You, and this is without being required to put any personal information. The site might eventually want your email address to send you notification that this item just got cheaper by 50%, but that’s up to you.

But what about privacy?

Just because one site knows you’re You doesn’t mean another site can know that. You could choose which sites your browser accepts these identification challenges, and if it doesn’t respond, the site can’t figure out who you are any better than how things are now.

Additionally, because computers are good at doing menial things like tracking lots of numbers, the way it answers challenges can be different for each site. So if you took a bad approach to this problem by just having the web client make some identification number, the web client could give a different identification number to each site instead of sharing the same number. That’s just to get a crude feel of how a client can maintain your privacy across sites, but real implementations would have much more complex challenges.

Go Phish?

If you happen to stumble upon a phishing site that didn’t automatically get blocked, there’s a lot more red flags that will be going off for the user. “Why do I need to all of a sudden sign into this site?” “Uhh.. how do I even sign in.. my client handles all that for me..” ;)

Just one of the tasks for the Identity Center

Just one of the tasks for the Identity Center

If all this was part of a cloud-based web client like EdBrowser, you can get this great experience no matter where you go. As long as you first get your information from the cloud to the client you’re using, your client will have enough information to answer the challenges to prove that you’re You, even if you’re at another computer like a mobile device.

The EdBrowser first simplifies Going Places by getting you there in a single click, and now you can make use of websites without needing to type in a username/email and password! There’s fewer and fewer reasons to touch the keyboard just to get to your actual goal — to use the site!

10 Comments | Tags: EdBrowser, Mozilla

18 February 2009 - 9:47Going Places: All the Different Ways

If you use Firefox 3, how do you get to the site you want?

How would you go to a website from this screen?

How would you go to a website from this screen?

Hopefully if you’ve been using Firefox for a while, you’ve found out that it is smart enough to show the site you want after typing just a single letter in the location bar. Firefox remembers which sites you go to frequently and what you’ve typed before, so it can better suggest the page you want — one reason why people say it’s so awesome. And if you’ve installed Enter Selects [addons.mozilla.org], you can just hit [enter] to go to the first result.

There’s 3 or 4 steps involved here:

  1. Getting to the location bar (click it or use the keyboard shortcut)
  2. Typing what you want (a single letter or more)
  3. Finding the result from the list (optional presses of [down] or [tab])
  4. Selecting the page (hit [enter] or click)

There are plenty more ways to get to the page you want:

  • Click the search icon in the top-right box and then search — ~6 steps
  • Search from the default home page — ~5 steps
  • Search from the top-right search box — ~5 steps
  • Search from bookmarks sidebar — ~4 steps *
  • Open from a new tab (with a smart new tab page) — ~3 steps
  • Select from the smart bookmarks drop-down — ~2 steps
  • Select a page from the location bar drop-down — ~2 steps
  • Open from bookmarks sidebar — ~1 step *
  • Click a bookmark from bookmarks toolbar — ~1 step *

I put a * next to the ones using bookmarks as you have to first bookmark a site and organize it into folders or put them onto the toolbar. So there’s some initial cost for setting them up, but it can pay off in the long run — just a single step to get to the site in the common case.

There are many ways to get to a site with varying number of steps

There are many ways to get to a site with varying number of steps

It’s not bad that there are many different ways to get at the same goal. Each way has its own benefits and drawbacks. For example, going to a bookmark is very simple (assuming it’s visible and clickable), but you need to have bookmarked a page beforehand, and going to a new site from a bookmark could be tricky. Additionally, you need to sacrifice screen space for the sidebar or the toolbar.

The main metric I’m looking at for these different ways is the number of user actions required to get back to a site. Just think about how many times you go to the same site over and over again. You might go to a number of sites frequently and others not as frequently, but you still revisit them more than a random site you’ve never heard of.

And don’t forget that others might have more difficulty than you when using a mouse or keyboard. Even if you only need to type a single letter to find the site you want, finding the right one key to press on the keyboard can be an ordeal in itself.

So ideally we make this common behavior very easy to do. At most one click is needed as we’ve seen with bookmarks. But bookmarks are “difficult” to work with as it requires extra effort from the user.

The idea behind EdBrowser’s Site Launcher comes from this goal of streamlining the interface to allow the user do what s/he wants — interact with the site – not the browser.

Get to where you want to be with a single click

Get to where you want to be with a single click

Instead of having to manually bookmark sites and organize them to be accessible, the Site Launcher automatically figures out which pages you’ve been going to frequently — you kept typing them in over and over again. You can even drag the current site from the “temporary” right side and pin it somewhere on the left because you want to go back to it.

As you get more and more sites on the Site Launcher, there’s less and less need to type in the site you want. This means all that space currently used for some text input like the location bar isn’t as necessary any more.

But just because this text input gets smaller doesn’t mean you can’t type-to-get-to-the-site. In fact, having sites on the Site Launcher can streamline the keyboard interface even more. Searching from that input box can first prefer pages contained in the Site Launcher. This includes your open tabs, main pages of the websites, as well as pages you frequently visit; it would even include recently closed tabs.

7 Comments | Tags: Add-on, EdBrowser, Mozilla

17 February 2009 - 6:45EdBrowser

Introducing my very own web client of the future! EdBrowser!

A brand new shiny web client with buttons and boxes that's better than foxes!

A brand new shiny web client with buttons and boxes that's better than foxes!

Okay okay. I’m not actually making a web client of my own, but if I had a lot of time and the right infrastructure, it would probably look like the picture above. (I suppose I do have a lot of time seeing that I’m unemployed. But that does have various benefits.. no going to classes, no studying for exams, no paying income tax to blow up then rebuild bridges.. And who would want to use something called EdBrowser?!)

I’ll just go in left-to-right order describing what you can see (and don’t see) in my mock-up:

  1. Identity Center
  2. Site Launcher
  3. Text Input
  4. Web Content

Identity Center

First off, we have something new here — the web client knows who you are and lets you know who it thinks you are. (If your name isn’t shown, you’ll want to “log in” so your experience is personalized for you. Everything described further down can be stored as part of your account.)

When the client knows who you are, it makes it easy for sites to find out that it’s you if you let the site know. Now you won’t need to fiddle with logins and passwords for “simple” sites like forums. Additionally, sites can restrict sensitive data (bank accounts, emails, etc.) and require you to give the web client a password. When you do so, the client will send the server an impossible to guess “password”, which it set up earlier, and now you don’t need to worry about internet hackers guessing your bank password.

There’s a lot more functionality for this “Identity Center,” but because I made it green and ugly, I’ll talk about it at the end. :P

Site Launcher

You might be wondering wheres the tab bar, and here it is! Kinda. You can initially think of this area as a combination of the bookmarks bar, tab bar, and history drop-down menu.

I’ve mentioned in some other post that even with a smart new-tab page, you still need to open a new tab then find the page you want to open — 2 clicks. Similar two steps if you use the drop-down menu. And bookmarks… ew.. at least the drop-down menu automatically shows the sites you frequently use instead of manually bookmarking sites.

What you really want to do is just get to a site you frequently visit. So let’s just put those sites in an easy-to-find place.. in the Site Launcher! The web client knows which sites you use frequently, and it will automatically populate the area with the icon for that site. Now when you want to open the site in a new tab, you just click on the icon. Done.

But that’s not all! When you move your pointer over the icons, it’ll show you titles and thumbnails of all your open “tabs” that share that same icon. It will also show thumbnails of pages that you frequently go to on that site. This means no more loading the site’s home page then clicking through to the actual page you want. It shows up right there – accessible with a single click.

And as a bonus, you would be able to search the listing of tabs and pages you frequently visit to restrict your searches to just that one site.

Opened sites, unopened sites, trash and active tabs

Opened sites, unopened sites, trash and active tabs

The Site Launcher has 3 main components:

  1. Sites you commonly use
  2. Trash for removed sites
  3. New/temporary sites

When you visit a site not in the Site Launcher, it shows up towards the right side — to the right of the dot. If you want to “pin” the site, just drag it to the left of the dot. You can close that site just by dragging it to the trash or any other normal way you would close a “tab.”

While the trash isn’t really a site, you can still hover over it just like any other site’s icon. Except now it shows you thumbnails of sites you’ve recently closed and might want to reopen. “Undo” is such a great feature! :)

The dot is there for you to drag if you want more space for sites to automatically fill in to the left side. But hey, you’ve got a lot of space now that there’s just the Identity Center, Site Launcher, and some small Text Input box…

Text Input

Not much to explain here. Just type what you want to do. You can execute commands or search your history and/or the web. You could just put text to store there if you wanted. I suppose you could type a URL, but why do that when you’ve got the Site Launcher!

But about the location bar.. There’s nothing showing URLs anywhere. Not in this text box or when showing sites you might want to launch — those are just titles and thumbnails. (Wait! Didn’t this guy make the AwesomeBar awesome?! Oh well.. :P Okay fine. You can still get to the current URL and edit it, but it’s not shown in the main interface.)

I lied. It’s not really just a text box for input. When you click on the “text box,” it also opens up bigger box in the middle of the screen, so when you type it shows up in both places. This box will show the results of what you’ve typed in. So it could be a map of an address you’ve selected or pages that you might want to go to. And after you hit enter for the command or search, the input box clears itself.

Web Content

Content is king! Lots of space for it here with just little partitioned off to the web client.

So I’ve already talked about web sites knowing who you are, and now you won’t need to keep logging into sites before you use them. But there’s more websites can do with information if you give them access!

Share your history to find great deals (but no Wii will be that cheap...)

Share your history to find great deals (but no Wii will be that cheap...)

If I’ve given Amazon.com access to my Target.com history, the next time I visit, the site can figure out what items I’ve been looking at and hopefully offer me a better deal. No need for me to manually search for the same item across multiple websites.

Another example would be sharing my digg.com history with a news aggregator site like Google News. It can know that I dugg an article and show me news stories related. Additionally Google could dig deeper and find when the original article was submitted or when I dugg it and only show news that has happened or updated since those times.

Identity Center

Back to the ugly green button. It actually comes in different colors like red and gray. It would also have a different emphasis state when the site wants to get at more of your data (but hopefully it’s not an annoying animation..)

For example, when you first visit a site, the button will appear gray because you haven’t given the site any access. It would then try to get your attention, and pointing your cursor at it would show a message like “Site ABC would like to know who you are. 40% of your friends have granted access; 3% deny. Grant or Deny?” Granting access could be limited to just the site knowing that if you “log in” to your web client from somewhere else, it’ll know it’s you again. This can be done without ever giving away your name or other personal information.

Having the web client know about your social network is nice, but re-entering all your information to a web client is a pain. You already have a lot of information on a number of websites, so let’s collect that. When you visit certain sites, the Identity Center could let you know that you can extract data from those sites and securely store it on your profile. Then you can share that information with other sites you visit if you choose to do so.

Crude mock-up of attempting to grab attention

Crude mock-up of attempting to grab attention

Other situations where the Identity Center button might want your attention is if the site wants to know more than just who you are. Clicking the button could show a list of sites that you might have history for. If you do have history, you can preview what information is sent to the site as well as visit the sites that you haven’t been to before.

If Amazon.com is asking for your visit history of competitor’s websites, they’re also giving away which competitors they’re interested in. You could then navigate to new sites that you didn’t even know about. (Or just visit the ones where your friends have also visited and granted access.)

There’s an endless combination of what can be done with having your data accessible online while selectively giving out certain portions to certain sites. Also, there’s plenty of interesting personal data that already exists on some sites, so you could unleash so much potential if it was easy to make that information available.

Do you have suggestions to streamline user tasks in this new web client?

Do you have suggestions to streamline user tasks in this new web client?

So that’s a quick overview of some parts of my imaginary EdBrowser. There’s plenty more that I’ve thought about but am currently too tired to write up. But even if this web client doesn’t exist yet, the technologies needed to make something like this are coming in. There’s the AwesomeBar as part of Places that pushed towards adaptive behaviors and Ubiquity for new interfaces for “doing stuff.” And there’s Weave for securely pushing data to the cloud and letting the user selectively open it up.

The user is the focus of attention here, and making the experience better and more streamlined is the goal. The user isn’t just passively browsing the web anymore as s/he gets to leverage the web client to easily get at whatever is desired. (So actually.. User is King! or Queen! ;) )

9 Comments | Tags: AwesomeBar, EdBrowser, Google, Mozilla, Nintendo, Online Shopping, Wii