The Mozilla Labs team has been busy working on some new extensions to enhance user experience while testing out new concepts. One extension that recently got a major update was Personas.
The premise behind the extension is that it’s currently too difficult to trivially theme and customize your Firefox experience. To counter this Personas makes the experience fantastically simple. For example, the following can be achieved using only a single image (which is seamlessly chopped up and positioned by Personas):
Here’s a quick peek at putting a live Google map behind the top toolbar area of the browser:
Users are starting to contribute their own, like this page of a live web cam watching a university in Germany.
I’m really excited by this super-tivial means of styling an application. It’s like taking the best part of HTML/CSS/JS widgets and combining it with trivial user customization and community.
While the end result may, or may not, look glamorous (depending on your taste) it’s undeniable that simple user customization is a quick trip to get users more excited about their experience (making the browser ‘their own’). I’m definitely curious to see what will built with this tool – especially now that dynamic content is being thrown in to the mix.
I was able to get a code example from Chris Beard for developing one of these advanced Persona extensions. To quote him:
You just need to put in script or content within the header/footer blocks. Also adding support so that it will pop up a window on first run so you can prompt for settings (e.g. flickr tags to use to render a photo mosaic) as well as an options window which users will be open for each Persona from the main interface.
The URL gets called every 60 minutes loading into a background iframe. The iframe is then captured every minute with the resulting image transfer to the chrome as a PNG data URL. No user content is privileged.
This is especially interesting since you can seed your browser layout with personal information, as he mentioned (photos from your Flickr stream, weather for your location, etc.)
Robert Nyman (April 4, 2008 at 2:12 am)
Nice! The ability for people to personalize their programs should never be underestimated.
Robert (April 4, 2008 at 2:56 am)
Now, out of curiosity: How high would you estimate the chance that we may get introduced to XSS and other vectors via that channel?
pd (April 4, 2008 at 3:28 am)
Did you boss force you to write about this? Topic seems beneath you John.
Yay, let’s all expand our chrome so some obscure image can be recognisable under all those useless UI items everyone has worked so hard to refine, pixel by pixel, like menus, location and search bars.
Let’s encourage users to make extension buttons and feedback written to chrome even less contrasting and therefore harder to read.
Paul M. Watson (April 4, 2008 at 5:34 am)
I was going to dismiss this like the others at first but then thought it could be used for “ambient” information purposes. e.g. you could monitor a continuous build server feed and if the build is broken the chrome goes red. Or when you get email, instead of an obtrusive pop-up the chrome pulses softly or changes colour again. Hopefully this would allow you to notice that you have something to pay attention to without breaking your current attention too much.
Of course weather would be another one but I am loathe to suggest YAWW (Yet Another Weather Widget.)
Live webcams or maps though I think are too cluttered to be in the background.
Rob (April 4, 2008 at 6:58 am)
I like it, I love the customisation aspect of things like iGoogle (however limited), having it in the browser is a nice touch. And dynamic content? Could be good for behind the scenes alerts like forum replies… twitter feeds… and lots of things really. Good show!
@pd: lighten up, if someone wants to make their text and UI hard to read it’s up to them. No one’s asking you to do it.
Lennie (April 4, 2008 at 6:59 am)
It sounds a bit like it should have been written like this:
<irony>I’m really excited by this super-tivial means of styling an application.</irony> But I could be wrong.
I do however think it’s usefull, because firefox still needs restarts for adding extensions, etc. It would be really usefull if it became more dynamic.
But concerning this extension, I do have a suggestion, what about allowing a transparant background on the page your viewing ? In the user-stylesheet.
So you can display something on the whole screen. :-)
Jason Robb (April 4, 2008 at 7:16 am)
Very cool. People are going to love this! I noticed the awesome logo a few days ago. I didn’t realize dynamic content could be put in there… very interesting indeed. Thanks, John.
Jake McGraw (April 4, 2008 at 8:23 am)
ah, can we get some title bar love with this extension? On a mac it’s the break between the title bar and the theme is irking, especially since the space to view the theme is so small. Additionally, how about a little transparency on the tabs?
Stu (April 4, 2008 at 9:39 am)
Hm, maybe when you scroll down, the web content could go here!
Wade Harrell (April 4, 2008 at 11:22 am)
interesting, like Paul this makes me ask myself “what could I do with this” a few ideas come to mind, and sometimes just making things look “nicer” is a valid exploration in itself. come on people, you prefer default gray? i am always amazed at how people will dismiss something new without exploring it’s potential…
p.s. nice shout out at http://weblogs.mozillazine.org/roadmap/archives/2008/04/popularity.html “profess (and demonstrate) love for it”
Kevin Weibell (April 5, 2008 at 7:13 pm)
Perhaps it’s because I never really got into this “style your software”-hype, but I’d rather keep my toolbar the way it is – fast, easy to read and simple ;)
pd (April 7, 2008 at 1:59 am)
@rob: thanks for agreeing with my point but don’t tell me how to feel
@paul: if you want to do anything serious with the chrome from a developer’s point of view, why not just write a theme?