Mozilla Firefox has had a search bar since its initial release, and has helped to change the way our users look up information by giving them a single interface to a variety of search services. It’s also had search services in the location bar, but they’re not as accessible or (arguably) useful as what’s offered by the search bar. There have been minor tweaks along the way to how these work, but nothing fundamental has changed with respect to search features in Firefox since its original release. We need to change that. Starting now.
Search behaviours have changed, and there are a number of new – and sometimes even different – search service providers out there. Unfortunately, our users don’t always realize how many options are available to them through Firefox, the websites they visit, and search-related add-ons. Our users today are using search to find other people, stuff that’s close to them, what everyone’s talking about right now, and a host of other things, and we should be making that as easy as possible for them.
Aside from the great UI work being considered, like moving the search bar into the location bar, I think there’s considerably more we need to do across a number of domains. I’d like for us to start exploring how we improve the use and utility of search in Mozilla’s products and services, particularly:
1. What kind of information are our users searching for, and who is best-positioned to provide the most relevant information for those searches?
The web has matured in the last five years, and people are using different search services for specific tasks. We should categorize the search services that are available in Firefox, and ensure they’re relevant to the task at hand for the people who use them. The Fennec team has developed its search interface with this in mind, providing search services for different tasks that our user base performs on a regular basis, and I think this is something we should build on.
2. Are we doing a good job meeting the needs of the users in each locale we support?
Every locale we support starts with the default list of providers we offer in the US English version of Firefox. Our amazing localization teams have created these lists to add search services that are more relevant to their locales and the users in them, and they do a great job. I’d like to ensure we all have a better understanding of who those providers are, and what, if any, alternatives there are per locale. From there we can build on the categorization process, and provide a truly global list of search services for our users.
3. How can we help our users discover and use the options available to them?
There are several search features in the browser, along with search options other than what we provide by default in our search bar. We need to make it easy for users to add to the list of search engines to the list of defaults we provide, to discover that there are add-ons that enhance search utility, and that they can change things like the default search provider(s). The mechanics behind these features could be improved considerably, and we should make changes to both to make them more usable by our publishers and users alike.
4. What does our search wish list look like?
We should think hard about what we’d like to change in Firefox to make search better, as well as where we should incorporate search services and which services should be offered. We don’t need to constrain ourselves to how we’ve done things thus far, and should consider including anything and everything that will help. If we could get things just by asking, would they include things like:
- add-on searches and discovery
- suggestions on error pages
- better user control of search preferences
- context-sensitive searches by website
- searches from within new tabs
- insert your idea here (and in the comments!)
The net result of this process should be a list of new services and features we can incorporate into the Mozilla project and its individual products, and would encompass all of the information assembled. The idea is to get people thinking, and come up with a public plan for improving search across the board to keep our products relevant and useful.
None of these ideas are new, and have been considered at different times by individual groups or people. They touch the user, the product, our content providers, localization and add-on communities, and almost every functional organization at Mozilla, and requires the input of same. As such, they’ll always be considered individually unless we shift from a tactical mode of thinking to something a little more strategic. I’d like to kick things off so we can start driving towards that.
The sky should be the limit, and we shouldn’t constrain ourselves to any particular mindset.
So, how do you think search should work?