Sep 16, 2010

Did you know you needed or wanted "Pinned Shortcuts"?

I used to think of browsers as lightweight utilities whose sole purpose was to ‘deliver’ me to the Internet. I thought that the tasks that improve the quality of user experience such as ease of navigation, clarity of brand,… were the responsibilities of individual websites. I was both right and wrong.

Browsers have the vaunted position of arbitrating the user interface for all websites. The beta release of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer v9 (IE9) seems to reveal that Microsoft has designed-in ways to co-market websites by making their brands more visible and persistent, enabling the ease of repeat visits and to some extent, the stickiness of user-selected websites. It seems that personalization, customization, the ability to make browsers look and act the way you want are the key competitive factors nowadays. One feature that groups some of these benefits is “Pinned Shortcuts.”

Like a lot of new features, the way Pinned Shortcuts work and the value it delivers are a little hard to grasp. Marketing dogma used to say the goal is to give customers what they need and want. Nowadays, features that correctly predict what customers didn’t know they needed or wanted are on the right path to marketing nirvana: customer delight. ZDnet’s Ed Bott gives an explanation and example of Pinned Shortcuts (as part of a 5-page long discussion of IE9).

“The rest of the browser interface remains intact when you use a pinned shortcut. The Favorites and Settings menus are still in their assigned place. You can also open new tabs in the same windows as the pinned site, a feature that initially had me concerned. The point of promoting specific sites is to help those sites stand out, not just to arbitrarily create extra tab groups. But in practice, I’ve found the design useful, even addictive. It didn’t take long for me to begin creating groups of three or four related tabs for a common activity. For example, I have my blog’s home page pinned to the Taskbar, and I usually open Google Analytics and the WordPress dashboard for the site. Keeping those three tabs in a single group makes it easy for me to click the ZDNet icon on my Taskbar and find one of those tasks, which previously were scattered among dozens of open tabs.”

The browser business is crowded, competitive and moving fast. IE9 is not unique in offering such a feature. Mozilla’s Firefox 3.6 update and Firefox 4 beta have similar and same features by other names. Here is a 2010 table that rates ~50 attributes of 10 browsers that was likely done before the release of Chrome and IE9 beta. 

The extremely vibrant and creative browser extensions sector, that really lets the user customize the experience, deserves its own blog post! Stay tuned.