Why What’s New Pages Fail

Last week I upgraded my Firefox to version 3.6. Prompted with the standard pop up, I went through the application restart and chose to restore my tabs after the process was complete. I then went through the routine process of closing the ‘What’s New’ tab. I continued working business as usual.

My standard process for using a web browser is simple. I live off the center click button on my mouse to open new tabs. It allows the content to load in a new tab but my workflow to continue uninterrupted. Using Chrome, I got used to new tabs opening adjacent to the parent tab, not at the end of the list. In Firefox, I became used to the notion that this interaction simply was not in the cards. Now, halfway through my day with Firefox 3.6 I couldn’t find the tabs I was opening. It wasn’t until I took a conscious break from my work that I realized Firefox now treats tabs the same way as Chrome, by opening them adjacent to the parent tab, in a tree-style of navigation.

Now,  I likely would have known this new feature had I only read the What’s New tab. Except I never do. And I doubt I am the only one in this boat. Like an End User Agreement, we all too often confirm or close the message without actually gleaning any of the content. There needs to be an alternate solution to conveying large feature changes to users.

Twitter has one, although by no means the only or best solution. When introducing new features, they provide a contextual overlay near the new feature.

Why couldn’t Firefox do the same? When I started opening new tabs put a small overlay in the tab bar. In this way, I would have a contextual and timely notification of a change to the application and my workflow.

I approve of the change Firefox made. It matches my mental model and workflow, reduces task time (Fitt’s Law metrics) and matches with Chrome. But the method in which I was notified of these changes needs to be reviewed. This is not limited just to Firefox but applications in general. There needs to be new solutions to informing users of product changes.

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