Staś Małolepszy

Mozilla Fennec L10n Productization Guidelines — Part 4. Search engines

This post was migrated from my old blog. Some links might not work.

Search engine plug-ins are arguably the most prominent and the most talked about component of productization. Every localization team working on Firefox goes through the process (supported by these guidelines) of choosing the search engines whose plug-ins will be available by default in the localized builds.

We’d like to use the same approach for Fennec. For each locale, we’ll look at the region’s market and try to choose search engines that offer best user experience and bring a lot of added value to Fennec. To facilitate the process of suggesting search engines and choosing a few of them for including in localized Fennec builds, I’d like to suggest the following guidelines for choosing search engines in Fennec.

I propose the following 4 categories of search engines for localizers’ consideration:

  • General search
    • 1 global
  • Reference search
    • 1 Wikipedia
    • 1 e-commerce (store preferred over auctions)
    • 1 other (optional, a dictionary or a word reference recommended)
  • Local search
    (i.e., “around me” search; e.g. “find the nearest ATM”)

    • 1 (only if available in the region)
  • Specific interest
    (extra category, use if no local or 2nd/3rd reference search available)

    • 1 (can be from different categories: e.g. entertainment (imdb, youtube, music search), price comparison, general search provider very popular in the region, etc)

Not all categories are required for every locale, in fact, some should be ignored if there are no good search engines available in the region. This applies primarily to the local search (C). If no local search service provider is available in the locale’s region, then we should not include this category at all. Instead, we could look for other interesting search services from other categories and include them under category D. For example, if there’s no local search engine in Germany, then instead of shipping a US-based local search engine with the “de” version of Fennec, we could look for a different type of search engine that would offer good experience and be relevant for German users.

The maximum is 6 search engines. However, if you have good candidates for categories A, B and C, you probably should leave D out, and stay at 4-5 plug-ins. Also, all locales should start with a global general search provider and Wikipedia, and not the en-US defaults. This makes the minimum number of plug-ins equal 2. To sum up:

Minimum: 2 (general search & Wikipedia)
Recommended: 4-5 (subset of A, B, C, D)
Maximum: 6 (A+B+C+D)

To help decide which search engines to choose for each category, I propose to use the following list of criteria, similar to what we use for all productization components across all Mozilla projects, augmented by the compatibility criterion:

  • User experience
    • Mobile compatibility
    • Search quality
    • Clean and easy-to-use interface
  • Relevancy
    • Popularity in the region
    • Usefulness for locale’s users

To provide some background on the choice of categories: you may wonder for example why I listed e-commerce under “reference”. My assumption is that searching in Fennec is mainly about acquiring information, less so about performing actions on-line (like buying a product). We can then use this information to perform actions off-line, for example take out some cash in the nearest ATM as located by the search engine. A mobile browser brings together two worlds: the off-line world in which we operate and the on-line one in which we acquire information. Consequently, I see e-commerce sites as great sources of information, answering questions like ‘Who wrote that book? What year was this film released? What’s the 4th track on this album?’ etc.

Following this line of thinking, I see two main objectives for the search plug-ins from the user’s perspective:

  1. acquire general information, knowledge, definitions, and
  2. acquire location-specific information.

A third objective, this time from Mozilla’s point of view, is to demonstrate the feature called “adding search engine plug-ins to the chrome”. It could be argued that including more search engine plug-ins than Fennec’s search bar can fit would have an advantage of demonstrating the horizontal swipe-ability of the bar. On the other hand, offering less engines by default has two additional advantages:

  1. There’s an empty space on the right of the bar (cleaner interface), possibly encouraging the user to fill it, by adding new plug-ins.
  2. The first plug-in the user adds by herself will be visible right away on the search bar (it won’t be hidden) which, as I believe, will be more rewarding for the user and will make it easier to understand what has just happened (no questions like “Where is this search plug-in I just installed?”).

These reasons are convincing to me. I also believe that it is important to keep the interface clean. Contrary to Firefox, search plug-ins are a highly visible piece of UI in Fennec, somewhat similar to the bookmarks toolbar in a desktop browser. It is therefore crucial to find the right balance between offering more functionality with more search engines and keeping the interface clean and uncluttered. Let’s remember that the browser (together with the search bar) belongs to the user.

Published on 08.07.2009

Staś Małolepszy

Thoughts about the Internet, the information society, Mozilla and human-computer interactions.

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