Category Archives: Usability

Ideas for Desktop Search Tools

Ever wanted to send an attachment using your web mail? Don’t you hate having to dig through your hard drive until you find the right file? While drag-and-drop capabilities would be great, it would be even better if the Desktop Search Tools already on our systems were smart enough to let us directly find the file from within the file-upload box.

In the particular case of Gmail, Google already makes a decent desktop search product which can even index all of your Gmail, so I’d really like to see them integrate it better with Gmail. Microsoft could do the same with their desktop search product.

I haven’t delved into the implementation details, but it seems possible. Google already does something similar with Google Suggest (you start typing your query into Google, and a list of like terms pops-up), so I’m guessing it would be feasible to code this into Gmail and your local copy of Google Desktop Search.

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Reading the web – How visitors interpret your website

Jakob Nielsen does an interesting analysis of reading patterns on the web. By tracking the eye movement of hundreds of visitors while visiting thousands of websites, he’s come up with a visual map showing how these users examine, read and interpret a website. It turns out they mostly do an “F” pattern on the page, scanning first across the top, then slightly below, and finishing by slowly tracking a vertical line on the left. Important stuff for web publishers and designers, it seems.

[full text of article =>] F-Shaped Pattern For Reading Web Content (Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox)

According to Nielsen, the study’s “implications for Web design are clear and show the importance [of not simply] repurposing print content:

  • Users won’t read your text thoroughly in a word-by-word manner. Exhaustive reading is rare, especially when prospective customers are conducting their initial research to compile a shortlist of vendors. Yes, some people will read more, but most won’t.
  • The first two paragraphs must state the most important information. There’s some hope that users will actually read this material, though they’ll probably read more of the first paragraph than the second.
  • Start subheads, paragraphs, and bullet points with information-carrying words that users will notice when scanning down the left side of your content in the final stem of their F-behavior. They’ll read the third word on a line much less often than the first two words.

Without reading the complete study (it will be presented at a Nielsen Usability Seminar) or looking at the websites used for analysis, it’s hard to draw the correct conclusions from this information.

  • Are readers using this pattern because that is were the relevant information is (or where they expect it to be)?
  • How do users from different cultures look at web pages? Do right-to-left readers scan webpages in a backwards F pattern?
  • I read magazines back-to-front… do I scan web pages differently?

Though I agree it is interesting to look at this eyetracking heat-map, I’m not quite sure that it should dictate how we layout content on a website. The F-pattern is not necesarily telling us where users look on a webpage, but rather reflecting where content lies on the webpage.

The eyetracking pattern will obviously fall towards the left side of the screen, simply because this is where all of our sentences begin. Whereas not every sentence will reach the right side of the screen, all of them will begin on the left. Consequently, the pattern will show a bias towards the left.

Most users will read the first line of content on the page, usually a title or headline. If interested, they will follow with the sub-heading or the opening paragraph. Readers will continue until they lose interest – this happens in a top-down manner: you read until whichever paragraph you get tired. Since a smaller number of readers will read the full length of the text, the pattern will be biased towards the top of the screen.

Finally, if you’re going through a list, scanning search results, or deciding whether an article is interesting, the logical approach is a top-down scan. This pattern will be biased towards the left side of the screen, simply because there’s always information on that side. Even if you are scanning whole lines, your eyes tend to pause at the beggining of each line -on the left side- because this is your anchor point to begin your scan.

All these behaviors lead to F-patterns, E-patterns and Inverted-L-patterns. I’m not surprised the eyetracking charts reflect this. What I’d like to see is how the user adapts his scanning behavior to different types of websites (i.e., photo galleries or video websites). Have we, as web surfers, learned to see webpages in a certain way? Or do we adapt our scanning behavior to each website we visit?

Comments, as always, are welcome.

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Google GMail security bug shares your chat contacts

UPDATE: This security flaw has been fixed by Google.

I’ve found an interesting security bug in Google’s GMail that could potentially expose your entire GTalk/GChat contact list (i.e., your Quick Contacts).

I. The security flaw can be exposed this way (you will need two GMail accounts):

1. Open yor browser (tested on Internet Explorer and Firefox) and log in to your GMail account.

2. Open another browser window or tab and navigate to GMail. Your current account will open. Sign out and log back in with the second GMail account.

You should now have two browser windows open to GMail. Each one logged into a different account (although only the second one will be functional):

attacker_det

victim_det

3. Now go to the first window and wait (might take a while). Do not click on anything, do not refresh (clicking on anything will display a new page stating you’ve been signed out of GMail.) Eventually, your Quick Contacts list will show the Quick Contacts and tag line for the second account.

attacked_det

You can click on any contact to access its details (Name & Email).

contact_details_det

You will not be able to send them an email, because GMail will tell you that “Your account has been signed out” but that’s just a minor inconvenience.

signedout_det

II. Exploiting this security flaw:

1. You’ll need to log into your GMail account and somehow hide that window from your victim. Suggestions: open lots of tabs so that your tab gets hidden in the clutter or minimize the window and leave another window open for yout victim to use.

2. In a new tab or window access GMail and sign out, leaving the GMail sign in window displayed. Hopefully, your victim will use this window to access GMail.

3. Return to your victim’s computer and take a look at their Quick Contacts in your “hidden” GMail window.

III. Protecting yourself from this security flaw:

1. Alway sign out of GMail when using a shared computer.

2. Before login on to your GMail account, make sure there are no hidden windows or tabs already logged into someone else’s GMail account.

IV. Contacting me:

You may contact me through this blog’s comment system, gmail me (granier) or skype me (anonymonk).

Update:

Google has been informed of this bug.

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What’s up with Panasonic’s customer service?

I bought a Panasonic FZ20 camera (which I highly recommend) from Circuit City (great service) in November. The offer included a rebate from Panasonic for a free battery and carrying case. I sent the required documentation to Panasonic in December 2004 and am still waiting for the battery & case (it’s now April 2005).

And I’m definitely not the only one. Check out these posts at the DPReview Panasonic forum:

http://forums.dpreview.com/forums/read.asp?forum=1033&message=12898359

http://forums.dpreview.com/forums/read.asp?forum=1033&message=12217588

The word from Panasonic, is that they’re out-of-stock, and they don’t know when they will have the products on hand. Seems like that has been so for a couple of months at least. I wonder if Panasonic sees these rebates as “gifts” they’re giving us… ’cause the way I see it, this is stuff I paid for (by selecting this particular vendor).

So… think twice before taking advantage of these Panasonic rebates.

UPDATE: I eventually received everything Panasonic offered.