The idea of user constructed browsing has been around as long as browsers, but I first saw it defined by Jakob Nielson in his Jan 2005 "AlertBox" article on Reviving HyperText
"..any structure that's built by the user and added on top of existing hypertext."
Quite simply, allowing the user the power to create their own information to give context and meaning to the authors webpage. For example- you're searching Craigslist for a sofa, each page you visit, you can jot a note down that you only see next time you come back to that couch: "Called this guy on Monday, willing to help me move it" or "Played phone tag with this guy, sounds like a jerk." You have your own research and data mixed in with whatever is showing up there on Craigslist. Where I would *love* to use something like this is on every single login page I've ever seen. You could use it as your own "password reminder" and jot a note down like "Password: My first dog's name with my son's b-day" or something like that that. Mixing the web page data with your own.
Opera, of course, already has a gambit of features that fall into this category. We'll touch a few briefly to give you an idea of what I'm talking about...
Where do we go from here?
- Notes- It's been around a long time, and the user community has tried to extend this idea. It's the first thing that comes to mind when you read Nielson's and Scott Berkun's article on doing research and annotating web pages. I use the Notes for researching, but the biggest draw it has for me is the "password reminder" thing I mentioned above.
- UserJS- Ad Blocking et. all- Modify the actual content on the webpage. Don't like how google image search lays out the webpage? Change it with a userjs file to match the way you think.
- Bookmarks- Extends beyond the normal implementation by allowing us to create "nicknames" which we can use to match the bookmark up with our way of thinking. So I can just type "bank" in my address bar and get *my* bank, regardless of where it happens to be.
- User Defined Style Sheets- Allows users to take the existing page, and use their own stylesheets to make
- Site Preferences- Block popups, identify as, etc. all let you tailor your experience to the way you'd like it to be.
Somewhere in the Opera 8.5-9.0 beta development, the Community was introduced to an interesting idea for bookmarks
. In a nutshell, if the user had already bookmarked the site currently showing in the address bar, a star appeared in the same manner as the RSS/Feed icon currently does, ie, in the address bar. I recognized this as a small but important step in the direction of user constructed browsing, and was excited to see the feature since it addresses the "what do *I* want to know about this site?" question. I think it's useful information to know if I have bookmarked a site, and if I have, maybe I'd want to nickname it? Maybe create some metadata for the bookmark? Opera's real-time quickfind feature makes this task easy to do even without the address bar indicator, but it was nice to see at a glance.
Unfortunately, that feature is no longer with us. The overwhelming opinion from from the community was "don't tread on me..." or more specifically, my address bar. I fear the implementation may have hindered this user-constructed feature while it was still in its infancy. Because people didn't like an icon in the address bar (understandable), the feature itself has gone away. I'd love to see that feature come back... in fact, I'd like to see more of user-centered features, but with a different implementation. If we apply that defunct bookmark feature thinking to Notes, we'd have the ability to mark up pages on craigslist with our own data. Here comes the "Wish-List..."
I suggest that the following distinction be made- the address bar, and any icons included within, be from the site/author. We currently have the Widget and Feed icons there, and this makes sense as it's a feature the site/author has made available to the user. I propose we have another way to inform the user of their own "user constructed" content, which the orginal address bar star was. This new addition to the UI will be a way for the user to see all the things s/he has done to the page (the stuff the author has no control over).
My first thought is to use a panel. If you have this panel selected, as your browser changes URLs, it is updated to reflect user constructed data, in the same way the links panel or the history panel work. They dynamically change/update as you browse.
The two pieces of data I have in mind:
- If you've bookmarked this page, you can get access to it quickly
- If you've made a note from this page, you'll see it.
The second one is really what I'm after though- Notes. This is the much requested "sticky-notes
" feature which would represent a major leap forward in user constructed browsing. Just look at ROBO/sticky-notes
, Sticky Notes widgets
, Firefox extensions, desktop sticky applications etc. to see that I'm not the only person wanting this kind of feature, but the implementations just are not quite there yet.
I'm not suggesting this is the best way (a panel), just the first place I thought of where this information would fit, so here's a crappy mockup:
...of course, this idea could be expanded upon to include other information beyond notes and bookmark metadata.Where can we go from there?
I'm not sure where we go, but it wouldn't take a great technical leap to extend this idea out to a "social network" to have a "stumble-upon" type environment. Someone can host user constructed data about bookmarks and notes so that as *you* browse this page right now, you could see the notes that *I* have taken on it…but, like Josh Porter says
, "personal value precedes network value" and the user constructed features should be first and foremost, for the individual.
Scott Berkun on browsers (December 2004 -but still has some good points!)http://www.scottberkun.com/essays/essay37.htm