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Redesigning The "Back" Button

Hemos posted more than 10 years ago | from the going-back-through-the-past dept.

The Internet 356

TheMatt writes "Nature Science Update is reporting today about research by New Zealand scientists on redesigning how the "Back" button works in your browser. They point to the fact that the current "Back" is more of an "Up" in a stack of pages. They propose a system that records all pages visited. A good summary page of their efforts in web navigation (including a interesting thumbnail-style "Back" menu) can be found on their page."

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first (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#4983209)

eat it fuckers, xbox is huge!!!

dbny represent!!!

Re:first (0, Offtopic)

YellowSnow (569705) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983247)

xbox is huge!!!

So are the controllers

Re:first (0)

Real World Stuff (561780) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983336)

Use an "S" controller if you have little girl hands.

already have it (1, Redundant)

kaltkalt (620110) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983219)

seems that if i click the lil' arrow next to the back button in IE I already have a list of all the pages i've already been to (or at least the last 10 or so).

Re:already have it (-1)

Sexual Asspussy (453406) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983232)

It seems to me that when I strangle you by your freshly-extracted colon, you will not care about browser performance.


Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#4983415)

Not only is this poster sincere, but he is also quite right.

Re:already have it (3, Interesting)

glesga_kiss (596639) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983254)

I thought the same. It currently does go back through the pages as described already and it has done for as long as I can remember.

Each press of it takes you back to where you were. The same is true for the IE style Explorer windows, where there is also an "Up" button available. Each functions as you would expect.

If they really want to do some work with back buttons, sort out the problems with frames and scripted web pages first!

Re:already have it (1, Troll)

Mr Guy (547690) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983278)

The parent isn't a troll... he's right. I can't figure out from reading the article what exactly they want to change. Mozilla has a nice drop down list of where I've been, it goes back to the page I was at before. What exactly do they MEAN?

Re:already have it (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#4983287)

Modded as "Troll"? What are the moderators on today I wonder? Makes a perfectly valid point; the back button already works as described in the article. It does what it says...takes you back to the previous page.

Re:already have it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#4983346)

Don't worry, they will be appropriately metamodded back to the stone age.

Re:already have it (5, Informative)

jd142 (129673) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983407)

No, I don't think you do. Try the following:

1) Go to the Slashdot main page at

2) Go to the discussion about the back button.

3) Click your back button and go back to the main page

4) Click on the link to the discussion about Microsoft being its own worst enemy.

5) Now try to use your back button to get back to the discussion about the back button. On both Mozilla 1.2.1 and IE 6, that piece of data is gone. You go back to the slashdot main page and then back to the site you visited before slashdot. It is a feature I've been annoyed with for awhile.

At the end of the day, I can't just hit alt+- and revisit every page I've been to.

Why is it gone? Because you went "up" in the directory hierarchy to the main slashdot page and so it erased the back button discussion.

I can get to the page in the history of course. And as I read the article, that's really what they are talking about (at least as I understood it): integrating the history into the back button so that you can more easily retrace your steps.

At least that's what I think they are talking about.

Re:already have it (1)

notque (636838) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983457)

Thank you for explaining that. I didn't get what they were talking about until that. The only real question is, is that enough of a reason to change it? I've accepted that as the way it functions. I don't think I'm missing anything by not having it function like an "Up" button.

Re:already have it (1)

tylerdave (58777) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983493)

So you're saying that software works well enough as it is and we therefore shouldn't make an effort to improve it? That seems kind of silly to me.

Re:already have it (1)

notque (636838) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983514)

I understand your point, but I don't feel as though that is something I would want to have. I use favourites, and history to browze the web, and I don't go many places other than Slashdot and ESPN anyway. I'm not saying that it wouldn't help other people, or that I would be adverse to change. From my point, it is not needed, and I don't beileve you needed a study to determine any part of that. Upgrade it? Cool. I may even use it, I am more disheartened by the Study for everything aspect. Whatever happened to common sense?

Re:already have it (1)

c (8461) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983539)

No problem with Konqueror (an older version, mind you). It appears
to keep a proper linear history and when you go back, you go back both
to a specific page and the page location you left from. The history
in the sidebar, on the other hand, is a site hierarchy rather than a
linear list.

I can't quite understand why a browser would want to implement what is
essentially a linear process as a hierarchy any more than I feel it
necessary for a web site to reflect the file system layout...


Registration required. Blah blah blah... (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#4983221)

Where's teh mention that you need to register to read this article?


Re:Registration required. Blah blah blah... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#4983238)

are you dumb? no reg required

Re:Registration required. Blah blah blah... (2)

Anonvmous Coward (589068) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983283)

"Where's teh mention that you need to register to read this article?"

They probably never mentioned it because you don't need one.

They should... (4, Funny)

craenor (623901) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983226)

come to the U.S. and apply for a gov't grant to study this...probably get $5 million a year at least.

Important research!

Re:They should... (2)

dirkdidit (550955) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983284)

To whoever modded that one up, I'm pretty sure he was trying to make a joke there and not something informative.

Back key (0, Offtopic)

deanpole (185240) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983454)

I use Alt-Left instead of the mouse, and my
only real problem is Flash which sometimes
grabs these keys. I know some Flash games
use the keys, but advertisements need not.
Shame on them if it is intentional. My prefered
interface would be to right click and select
"enable keyboard" on each flash. Mozilla
could probably implement it without help from
the plugin.

If I'm not mistaken..... (4, Funny)

deathcow (455995) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983227)

Doesnt Amazon have a patent on this??


WHY? (5, Insightful)

Computer! (412422) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983235)

The average web browser's "back" feature is almost the only software feature in existence that is universally understood, and works as advertised. If it aint broke...

Re:WHY? (3, Informative)

Malnathor (588724) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983369)

Actually, the way I understand it is as follows: Visit page 1, click a link to page 2, hit the back button, and then go to page 3. Now, if you use the back button from page 3, page 2 is not on the list. The back button they propose would include page 2.

Re:WHY? (4, Insightful)

kawika (87069) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983448)

I've seen people expect the back button works that way, and they've been confused when they click Back multiple tims and it doesn't show them all the pages they have been to. However, I don't see that the "new" approach offers that many benefits. The pattern of previous page visits is a tree. Any approach that tries to flatten out a tree is going to surprise (or annoy) someone. Most browsers have a History feature that lets you see where you've been and that works a lot like the proposed Back design.

Re:WHY? (4, Interesting)

ez76 (322080) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983409)

The average web browser's "back" feature is almost the only software feature in existence that is universally understood, and works as advertised
This ceases to be true once you throw cache-controlling headers (which force a refresh on many browsers) into the mix. For example, on banking sites (and other sites that want transactional semantics), the Back button will often force a reload if your browser honors "Pragma: no-cache" or "Cache-control" headers.

Also, as a previous poster pointed out, the back button also works unintuitively (compared to, say, the standard edit menu Undo function) when you browse to a new page from a page to which you've clicked back (works more like a tree than a chain in that case).

Don't we have this already? (1)

EMDischarge (589758) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983237)

IE 5.2.2 on OS X 10.2.3 has a nifty little feature where you can HOLD DOWN the mouse button and get a nice long list in reverse chronological order of the pages you've visited.

One could always use the History feature too.

Get to work on something REALLY useful, like a perpetual motion machine. Jeez...

Re:Don't we have this already? (1)

nullard (541520) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983269)

Of course, most browsers (including IE) have done this(on many platforms) for a very long time. I think the point is that the new tech uses thumbnails.

Umm..... (1)

dirkdidit (550955) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983239)

How exactly is that research? It seems to be a pretty trivial piece of code to write. Hell it could be done in Visual Basic in 20 minutes I bet.

Re:Umm..... (4, Insightful)

Quasar1999 (520073) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983500)

How exactly is that research? It seems to be a pretty trivial piece of code to write. Hell it could be done in Visual Basic in 20 minutes I bet.

Ok, first, ignoring your ignorant claim that it can be done in 20 minutes (it would need at least 2 days of QA testing, not to mention tonnes of time in beta), the research is not regarding the code, its regarding the user experience. I can clone the start menu from Windows XP with relatively little effort, but had I actually had to design the Windows XP start menu from scratch, it would have taken a crap load of research. Sure the code is easy, it's the design, and more importantly the human element that is important. If people don't find the menu intuitive they won't use it. Same goes for this 'new' back functionality. Obviously you are thinking about this from the point of view of a code monkey. If everyone were to think like that, computers would still be hard to use for the masses.

So to answer your question, it is research because they are researching how people use the existing back button, what users want the back button to do, what they actually do with it, and how to change the back button to make the majority of internet users happier with it's functionality.

Re:Umm..... (1)

limekiller4 (451497) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983549)

dirkdidit writes:
"How exactly is that research? It seems to be a pretty trivial piece of code to write. Hell it could be done in Visual Basic in 20 minutes I bet.

It's not implementation, it's the concept, stupid. How long does it take for you to write E=mc2?

Usability (1) (637314) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983240)

It's funny how usability is often over looked in many products, however once you give someone an interface (whether it be bad or not), and enough people are acustomed to it... it's really hard to change.

The Linux community has some great ideas that come out of it... but to move yer standard MS-gort to a linux machine, you have to throw out all their user experience with a computer OR you have to make Linux look like windows.

In developing web apps, the back button is a real !@#@!%!

Sorry but, (5, Insightful)

llamalicious (448215) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983243)

For the labelling:
I prefer to think of my "back" button as working like a paper book. I generally don't flip pages "up" when going to a previous page, so the "back" terminology is friendly to me.

As for the idea:
All I really need the back button to do, for better efficiency, is to skip posted forms, that's all I want. What did I miss in that article that really make their system stand out from stacking? I like my stacks dammit.

Err what? (1)

Anonvmous Coward (589068) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983248)

"They point to the fact that the current "Back" is more of an "Up" in a stack of pages. They propose a system that records all pages visited."

Yeah, you're going "Up" in a stack of pages that you've visisted. So who's the twerp that thought this needed to be fixed?

Don't we already do this? (1)

TerryAtWork (598364) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983250)

I figure that the browser caches all your recent data from the pages it visits and only requests the new stuff from the server.

Of course, there must be some way of discerning exactly what is new stuff, so I figure the server and the browser have a little conversation regarding file names and time/date stamps.

Of course, there's a lot I don't know about the Internet, so I could be completely wrong. I'd appreciate it if someone more knowledgeable than me straightened this out, please.

Like my daddy always said .... (1, Troll)

airrage (514164) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983253)

Like my daddy always said, "If you can't think of anything to intelligently post, post anyway." So here goes: with all the problems on the internet today the BACK button is like number 12,342,342,352,352,352,352,350,230,235,023,052,035 ,203 on the list of priorities. Number one being AOL CDs.

Bah! (2, Funny)

oGMo (379) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983257)

Bah, I thought of this years ago. Back buttons suck. So does the whole linear web browser model. I mean, it's the web, right? Why is it always back and forward? Why don't we see a web (graph) view?

I always wanted a web browser called "Sting" that displayed stuff like this and let you "cut through" the web. ;-)

Re:Bah! (2, Interesting)

Milo Fungus (232863) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983362)

Exactly. Read Weaving the Web by Tim Berners-Lee [] for a good explanation of the origins of the WWW. A lot of the Web as we know it is a hacked version of Berners-Lee's original vision and intent. People weren't willing to make client programs text editors, so the Web became a publishing medium viewed with a browser instead of the interactive medium it was intended to be. It would be easy to display your browsing history as a hierarchy or as a link web, but it would probably take up more space on your screen. Display space is at a premium. (I wish Mozilla would let me interactively resize the tab buttons, for instance. They take up too much space.)

Re:Bah! (1)

mini me (132455) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983426)

(I wish Mozilla would let me interactively resize the tab buttons, for instance. They take up too much space.)

And they are the wrong orientation. In almost all cases we have much more horizontal space to work with yet the tabs take up the precious vertical space! Also I want to be able to tear off the tabs to create a new window.

Konqueror (1)

carrier lost (222597) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983259)

To me, that's the best thing about it, the UP button.


I only mod up...

Not good (3, Insightful)

teslatug (543527) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983267)

On average, the two systems worked about equally well.
Then what's the point of changing it. It seems to me it would just add more confusion and frustration.

no.. it is "Back" (3, Insightful)

trefoil (153310) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983268)

when you start a browser.. it begins on your "home page" from there you may jump from site to site.. not necessarily deeper into a website, but more often than not, it is. So to me, the "Back" button has to do more with "Back Tracking" as in taking a hike, and back tracking towards "home".

Re:no.. it is "Back" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#4983524)

no, if your out hiking and visit point a, point b and point c, when you decide to go home do you go straight home or back through a,b and c?

Sidebar - History in Mozilla (4, Insightful)

Bonker (243350) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983274)

Is what I think they're looking for.

Lave the back button alone. It does what it's supposed to perfectly well. As long as it's not applied to file-systems or any other PC arcana, it's perfect for the task.

If you want to make something that works for both file-systems or GUI shell browsing and web browsing, design a new tool. Don't overload the existing tools and make them useless for both tasks.

Nice thumbnails (1)

nickdman (143525) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983275)

I like the fact that you can see the thumbnails, now only problem is your boss can walk by and see all the gamming and pr0n pages you have went to....

huh? (-1, Troll)

gyratedotorg (545872) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983282)

Cockburn and his colleagues....

cockburn? is this the guy who burned his penis with his laptop a few weeks back?

Didn't OS/2 Warp have this? (2, Interesting)

ejaytee (186527) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983289)

Does anybody remember the OS/2 Warp (3.0) system web browser? I vaguely remember a really nifty tree display for page history that would show everywhere you were at one time and everywhere you went from there.

Making this really useful (4, Funny)

Gorm the DBA (581373) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983292) after reading the article, I see that they're trying to make it so that users can get back to the main page easily so they can get to the information they want.

Why not make it *really* easy and develop a "forward" button that would actually take you to the piece of the Mega-pagecount-poorly-indexed-searchbuttonless web portal of doom that you're really interested in? They could call it the Psychic Fast Forward or some such.

Base it off of all of the Total Information Awareness data that the government wants to gather about us, so it predicts what you want.

And then place locks on your browser so that you really only want to go to the major sites.

Then eugenically engineer society so that you don't even know that you ever wanted to go somewhere else.

NOW we're making the web useful!!!!!!!!!!!

Uses for temporal navigation.. (1)

verch (12834) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983299)

Insert witty crack about being able to sort through the time travel in science fiction movies here.

Wait, scratch the part about witty.

Back in Phoenix, IE and Chimera (3, Interesting)

teamhasnoi (554944) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983302)

IE has an annoying habit of clearing the text boxes of a page when I get a timed out page and hit the 'back' button, say when posting to /. (slower than ever!?)

Chimera and Phoenix keep that information in the box, saving me from having to copy the text, just in case.

A feature I would like similar to 'back' would be to reopen the last page I was on when I last closed the browser. Often, I close the window and find that I still need some info that was on that last page. I hate browser history ie: I have that turned off, so I can't hunt through the history to quickly find the page.

That feature would be nifty. Or something to make me less of a spaz.

Re:Back in Phoenix, IE and Chimera (2)

dubiousmike (558126) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983463)

Or something to make me less of a spaz.

I recommend copious ammounts of pot brownies.

Um... (2)

RedWolves2 (84305) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983312)

If it is not broken don't fix it!

Interesting name (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#4983317)

Note: the scientist redesigning the back button is named "Andy Cockburn"

What about Forward? (3, Interesting)

Remik (412425) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983319)

I'm actually more interested in the possibility of redesigning the functionality of the forward button.

In the current implementations, the forward button loses it's registry once you go back/up and then click a link. It's kind of like creating a new time line in your lose all the pages you had been to in the previous line...before you went back. Why should it be that way?


Re:What about Forward? (1)

kawika (87069) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983397)

What you are proposing would require a Flux Capacitor. :-)

Re:What about Forward? (2)

blincoln (592401) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983405)

Why should it be that way?

Given that the forward button can only take you to one place (unless you want it to open a bunch of new browser windows when you click it), how else would it work, logically?

Re:What about Forward? (2)

wadetemp (217315) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983507)

Exactly. There are 3 cases with no obvious alternative behaviors besides mind reading... would someone like to explain what else it could do at these points?

A) You click the back button. A back operation is performed. The forward button enables, allowing you to undo the back operation.

B) You click the forward button. A back operation is undone. The forward button is enabled only if there are more back operations to undo.

C) You click a link on a page, which navigates you to a new page. The forward button disables itself, because it doesn't know what you might click next. The browser could possibly preload a predicted page, however that would be different functionality than in A and probably should be a different button altogether... the same functionality could be done (and is already being done in some browsers) w/o a button at all.

Uhm... (1)

Squidgee (565373) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983320)

> They point to the fact that the current "Back" is more of an "Up" in a stack of pages.

Uhm, it goes up in the stack of recently visited pages, not in the stack of pages on the actual site.

Seems to me they're basically rewriting what the browser's back button does, only they're saying it actually does something new; a waste of time, IMHO.

Re:Uhm... (1)

stratjakt (596332) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983413)

Nah, this is what they're doing..

Right now, if your at site A, then click to site B, click to site C, then click back twice, you end up at A, and you'll be able to go forward twice back to C.

But, if you go back to A, then click to site D, then go back, forward will take you to D, and B and C are lost in the back-forward scheme. As they should be, IMO.

Basically, they'd just use the already existing history feature, and back/forward would just be tied to the time you visited that site. So you'd go back to A, forward to B, C and then D.

Whats needed is to redesign the 'Scroll Lock' button. What the hell does it do? It looks so important - it even makes a light go on on the keyboard to indicate its state! Yet it does nothing!

Re:Uhm... (1)

Squidgee (565373) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983516)

Ah, you're right; I saw it as soon as you said "Go from A to D". Thanks for the clarifacation. =)

Some sites already redesign the Back button (5, Funny)

serutan (259622) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983325)

By using script to change it to a "Stay-Here" button. Those are the sites you make a point of never bookmarking, or ever intentionally visiting again.

Button? (1, Funny)

Gimpin (595657) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983326)

First of all, who still uses a the backspace key

what? (2)

tps12 (105590) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983329)

Yeah, the Back button is "up" for a down-growing vertical stack, but it's also "left" for a right-growing horizontal one. They're each equally intuitive and consistent, and the "left" model seems to be a pretty well-entrenched standard. I don't see any reason to mess with what is probably the easiest to use UI element in any modern web browser.

No, redesign the FORWARD button... (4, Funny)

Lxy (80823) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983330)

The back button is fine the way it is.

If the Back button takes me to where I've been, why doesn't the Forward button take me where I haven't been yet? I want a button that takes me to where I'm going to go before I ask it. Is that too much to ask?

Re:No, redesign the FORWARD button... (2, Interesting)

tlianza (454820) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983434)

Check out the fast forward button [] in Opera 7. If it detects a "next" button on the page your looking at (ex. Google search results) it detects that and allows you to jump to it. I'm not sure if it pre-fetches or not. Kind of neat.

IE and Mozilla already have this. (2)

Desert Raven (52125) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983337)

This is news?

First, the back button in IE and Mozilla has a drop-down that will show the previous 9 or so pages.

Second, there is the History button/menu, which will display a full listing broken down by site and date.

Maybe some of these "academics" should actually pull their heads out for a look at the real world now and again.

Uh? (2)

blincoln (592401) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983348)

Maybe I haven't had enough caffeine today, but I'm not understanding what this team has changed, exactly.

Every browser I've ever used has a back button that takes you through the history of every page you've visited, not just index pages.

What am I missing here?

Re:Uh? (1)

Tikiman (468059) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983403)

Maybe I haven't had enough caffeine today, but I'm not understanding what this team has changed, exactly.

I've had plenty of caffeine and I can't figure it out either. It seems like the "back" behaviour they are trying to fix is like when you go a site with frames, navigate for a while, then click "back" and you go back to the previous site - though not many sites are like that today,

It was a tough assignment but we did it. (0)

Stumbles (602007) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983350)

It took a team of scientists to figure this out?

Erm.... (0)

fatkid4ever (606252) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983352)

So like, build a better mouse trap and stuff....

From the country that brought you... nothing (1)

stratjakt (596332) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983355)

This team of 'scientists' wants to replace the Back button with the History tree?

Brilliant. Abso-Fucking-lutely brilliant.

You kiwis keep the hell away from my desktop.

It's really a tree structure (2)

Spy4MS (324340) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983366)

When you hit your back button and select another link, you're really branching the tree of visited sites.

It makes more sense to have an explorer-style tree view than a history. That way you can navigate a site and still have an idea where you have been.

Re:It's really a tree structure (2, Interesting)

91degrees (207121) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983435)

I was going to post a similar comment.

You're totally right about the functionality required. The problem I see here is user interface. While a tree diagram is quite easy to follow, a tree similar to the file browser one does take up rather a lot of space.

Thinking about it, I tend to use Mozilla's tabs as a means to launch several links from the same page, which allows me to flick thhough them, and return. This allows most of the functionality, but it does get confusing remembering where the pages were linked from. Perhaps what we need is a nested tabs view or something.

Re:It's really a tree structure (3, Interesting)

Spy4MS (324340) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983495)

Ok, shoot me for replying to myself, but I thought about it more and it occurred to me that the best UI tool isn't a explorer-style tree, but a multiple-level menu--similar to existing back-menus, but branched:

Page3 (last visited) | page4 (linked from page3)
| page5 (linked from page3)
| page6 (linked from page3)
Page2 (linked from page1)
Page1 (started here)

You are currently on page7, linked from page3. As you can see, it only branches when the back button is hit on page4,5 or 6, and you choose another link on page3. So back-button behavior is preserved, but enhanced to prevent information (clicked link) loss.

Programmers vs UI Designers (1)

SPautz (94799) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983367)

Why are programmers doing this, and not user interface designers? Programmers excel at discovering and providing for edge cases, but nearly all UI decisions require discovering and optimizing for the common case. Optimally, the two approaches should work on the application together, but for UI-centric design decisions like how to make the back button work, most programmers simply bring the wrong approach to the table.

From the website, it looks like the author is involved and rather knowledgable about HCI, but the article doesn't mention anything about

oops (1)

SPautz (94799) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983381)

Stupid submit button; I wish it were placed a litle further from the preview button. :-/ Please ignore this comment: the site does mention his coworkers, and they all seem very involved and knowledgable about both HCI and programming. It would have been nice if the article had mentioned some of this.

Does your average user care? (0)

I'm a racist. (631537) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983371)

Personally, I'd like more flexibility in a browser's back/forward functionality (and might get some use out of a variety of implementations). But, does your average user care at all? I'll bet most wouldn't even notice. Lots of websites integrate their own back/forward functionality anyway, which I'll bet get a fair amount of use. This may just confuse some of the simpler folk who want things to "just work".

By the way, have they patented this yet? If they plan on exploiting this, they've got 1 year (I think) from the date of publication, they'd better get to filing! Anyone smell a lawsuit coming in a couple of years?

OS X panel view (2, Interesting)

jpsst34 (582349) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983373)

I'm not an OS X user. But I wish I were. I really like the panel view (or whatever it's called) in the file browser. With every click, it shifts the panels to the left, and adds another at the current location. This gives a great visual view of history and allows you to sort of back up to the last wrong turn and go in another direction. It kicks the ass of the MS tree view. Something like this would be great in a web browser.

So what? (2)

ZoneGray (168419) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983383)

Big Deal. They can change it all they want, but my dad still won't be able to figure it out.

Can someone help me understand (1)

tlianza (454820) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983387)

As user of both Opera mouse gestures, and Windows Explorer, I know the difference between a "back" command and an "up" command. Both of these applications offer "back" and "up" and distinguish between them.

"Back" always takes you to the last place you were. Click it again, and it takes you to the place you were before that. "Up" in Windows explorer will take you to the parent directory of the current directory. "Up" in Opera will do the same, but on a website - it takes you to the parent virtual directory (from to, for example).

So I come into this article with those two concepts in mind, and when they tell me "back" should be called "up" I get really confused. These statements are also confusing:

They have replaced the current stacking system, which only records index pages, with one that records every page in the order it was visited.
What are "index pages"? I read that and think index.html - default pages. That can't be right though, because obviously the current system records more than just the default pages.
"The main problem with the current back button is that recently visited pages disappear," says computer scientist Andy Cockburn

This one I really don't understand. Pick a recent browser (Opera, Mozilla/Phoenix, IE) and you'll see the back button has an attached pull-down with your recently visited pages. As someone already mentioned, your history also lists your recently visited pages. Jeez, most people are pissed that their browser remembers TOO MANY recently visited pages (like when you start typing in the address bar and non-work-related sites pop up) rather than not enough.

Now if they're talking about a back button that can span browsing sessions, that might be interesting. It doesn't sound like they are though...

after you read the article... (2)

circletimessquare (444983) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983395)

after you read the article...

make sure you go "up" to slashdot, rather than "back" to slashdot to post a comment...


they need to backup and rethink their verbiage (pun intended). psychologically, the way the human mind thinks of time and travelling, the back button just makes too much sense.

What's new? (1)

james_underscore (468915) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983396)

Can someone explain how this is different from the existing back buttons. I don't know about IE, but the behaviour described in the article seems identical to Mozilla's back button.

It sounds like this has been done (2)

Tim Macinta (1052) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983404)

This sounds an awful lot like the Mozilla site navigation bar [] to me. This was removed right before 1.0 was released, which is why I'm still using a pre-1.0 version of Mozilla myself (well, that and the fact that Mozilla was already rock solid before 1.0).

google to the rescue. (2)

slothdog (3329) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983423)

So install the Google toolbar [] if you're using IE, or the Mozilla variant [] if you're using Mozilla, and use the "up" button provided there. Whee.

"the subjects were extremely enthusiastic" (2)

dagg (153577) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983425)

Of course they were. The subjects are always extremely enthusiastic about new things they've never seen before. I would have a better chance of believing the paper if they would have had a few "extremely UNenthusiastic"s thrown in. As the paper stands, everyone liked pretty much everything that was thrown at them. That is BOGUS.

How about.... (2, Funny)

Flabby Boohoo (606425) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983430)

Instead of a back button, create a belly button.

The article poorly explains things (5, Informative)

Randolpho (628485) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983441)

The first thing I thought as I was reading the article was, as everyone else has commented, "how is this different?"

It really *is* different; the problem is that the article explains things very poorly. Here's the difference:

With normal browsers, when you click the back button to a previous page, and then follow a new link on the previous page, the page you were on before you clicked the back button and followed a new link, is removed from the list. This is what they mean by "stack" behavior.

What these guys are proposing is that every time you visit a page, it goes into the back list. Thus if you are on, say, page 2, and click the back button to page 1, then follow a link to page 3, the list stored in the back button is 1 - 2 - 3, and you will go back to page 2. In the current system, the list stored would be 1 - 3; page 2 is gone from the list and no longer available via the back button.

So now you know. Regardless, this behavior is already available in I.E. 5.x and above via the History explorer bar. A simple sort by Order Visited Today gets the list exactly as proposed by the article. Except for the thumbnails, however, which is a very good touch.

Personally, I think it would be best to have *two* such buttons; one that has stack behavior (current "back" button), and another that has the proposed temporal behavior; perhaps as a history pull-down menu.

Re:The article poorly explains things (2, Insightful)

stratjakt (596332) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983504)

See, here's some programmers clearly overthinking the problem, and not understanding how the stuff is employed in the real world. This is why this stuff is best left to UI designers.

They're viewing the forward/back as popping and pulling off of a stack. Your average nontechie has no grasp of what that means, to them, forward/back is analagous to the path you took to get there.

This morning, I left my home and drove on the highway (1), and half asleep took the wrong exit (2). I went back to (1) and continued to work (3). Later when I reverse my route (by going 'back'), I dont want to go to 2 again. The path I took is (1)-(3), the reverse of that is (3)-(1)

The back/forward analogy is perfect as it is.

What these guys describe is (in english) a previous/next or earlier/later feature, not significantly different from the history menu/bar.

And Up/Down is navigating a fixed tree structure (going Up from yields

Re:The article poorly explains things (1)

nothings (597917) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983551)

Phoenix (I haven't tried Mozilla) does something sort of like this for it's "Go" history. I didn't work it out exactly--either it's remembering all pages, or it's just interleaving all the "stacked" pages from all tabs, but either way it totally screws up my normal browsing process, since I tend to leave a "main page" where I can get back to it with two or three "back"s, and use Go to shortcut that. Under Phoenix, the Go list ends up filling with misc junk and my "main page" isn't visible anymore.

So instead I'm still using Netscape 4.

History??? (2)

aardwolf64 (160070) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983451)

Apparently the author of the article has never heard of the history button in IE.

That reminds me of an article I once read on IE 5 in which the author said "I wish the favorites were available via a drop-down menu like in Netscape." Sheesh...

Back button haunts my nightmares (1)

palad1 (571416) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983455)

Everynight it begins like this:
User browsing site, happy, shinny, dhtmly site.
User making a mistake.
User clicking 'Back'.
JavaScript automaton generating the pages going K-Boom.

Now if only I were granted one of those wishes:
- Being able to control the back button behavior
- Being able to say "this is braindead, let's use XUL" when my boss insists on writting a 10,000 lines javascript automaton for the core of his dhtml website.

Until then, I'll stick to the yellow pills.

The back button sucks. (in other words) (2)

Combuchan (123208) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983477)

If I'm browsing through a set of pages, and I go back three pages then click on another link, those three pages disappear. The problem is slightly alleviated with browser tabs, but those tend to clutter up my screen during serious surfing time.

Just because it isn't broke doesn't mean it can't be fixed. Windows is universally understood but that doesn't mean a more powerful solution can be found/hould be used/be optional for those who can handle it.

I wonder who already owns the patent to the idea.. (1)

ThresholdRPG (310239) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983489)

Assuming something good comes out of this research into "a better back button", how long will it be before someone (Amazon perhaps?) claims they already invented the concept and patented it 10 years prior?

Research not new, problems not small (4, Informative)

Zinho (17895) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983498)

The Mozilla project has had people working on this for almost 3 years now, see bug #21521 on Bugzilla (they deny links from Slashdot, so I won't even try). Unfortunately, there are technical problems that can't be ignored when designing a system like this. One of the stickiest problems is the fact that, as you browse, the history of where you went becomes larger and larger - it starts to act just like a memory leak. Using menu items for this (like the go menu or, I think, the back button's menu) makes the memory problem worse, since menus are memory intensive. There are also cross platform compatibility issues to deal with.

The article mentions the non-technical issues as well: "Unsurprisingly, it's harder to return to index pages with this system - so it's easier to get lost in big websites. New users tended to solve problems either very efficiently or very inefficiently." I believe that this is one of the bigger problems the developers of more advanced navigation systems face, how to provide controls that afford the user good access to the information.

I wish them luck. And if you want to see something like it in Mozilla, please vote for bug 21521 on Bugzilla. It's only got 7 votes, which is pathetic.

On the other hand, if no one cares, perhaps the answer really is to just let it drop. Once again, I wish them luck.

why do this? (1)

fermion (181285) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983515)

I am really trying to think of why someone would want to do this. If I understand the current system, when a user clicks a link in a window, the old address is put on a fifo stack. If the user want to go back, the address is popped off the stack and the browser returned to the page. Good browsers remember the position on the page even if not marked. I have no idea what an 'index page' has to do with it. The back button works independent of page layout.

The first thing I though of is that they are re-implementing the history tabsl; it already exists, and, as the article pointed out, getting home would get very hard very quickly. This would be senseless. My second thought is that they trying fix the damage caused by badly designed pages. These pages break the back button through scripting or Flash, thus confusing the user. These pages are also of IE specific. The fix for this needs to occur on the web page, not browser.

In the end, though, it makes no sense. I don't want a complicated back button. We can open new windows, new tabs, or go to the history if there is someplace special I want to go. Going to the previous page should be trivially simple. Now, if someone wants to implement a tree structure so that when I hold down the back button a set of submenus appear so I can choose places I went from certain pages, that makes some sort of design sense. Still, the simplicity of the fifo stack is compelling.

2 dimensions (2)

miltimj (605927) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983518)

For those who still think they're not coming up with anything different...

Basically they want a two-dimensional navigation button(s), not the current one-dimensional ones (back/forward).

Back button. (2)

MindStalker (22827) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983528)

I'm confused, all this research shows that people use the back button VERY frequently. I personally almost never use the back button. So what is it that people are doing that require the back button, maybe solving the need for one would be a better idea. Are people trying to visit list of links? How about a more obvious tabbed browsing UI. What are the other uses for back? Can anyone tell me. Personally long before tabbed browsing was available I always opened in new window. So I really am guinuinly confused as I havn't used the back button in years. (1)

gCGBD (532991) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983529)

Although mostly defunct now, back in the bubble
days we had a company selling an IE add-on which
added an 'up' button to your browser.

By going 'up' instead of forward or back, you
stepped out to a meta-content page where you could
view other people's comments and related links
(ranked by popularity).

I would suspect that the owners of BrowseUp, or
whoever they sold their IP to, still own the
concept, patent, trademark, copyright, or whatever
related to buttons in browsers that take you up.

I have no idea if they'd pursue royalties, but
thought I'd offer implementers advice to tread

Google 'BrowseUp' and you'll see a few old
references to the company.

Have both kinds (4, Informative)

iabervon (1971) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983538)

Your navigation is actually a tree (or a graph if you consider a page to be the same regardless of where you get there from). The conventional "Back" button goes up the tree, which is the simplest operation for going toward the root, and quite useful.

The real problem is that the conventional Back and Forward buttons, between them, don't let you traverse the entire tree, but only the right edge. There needs to be some way of getting to the other pages (for example, I'd like to take another look at the article; I can't navigate there in my history, even though it was on my screen two documents ago, nor can I get there from here without either starting from my bookmarks or losing my comment). They use a button which essentially is an "Undo" for following links.

Their results follow from the ability to access your entire history rather than only the right edge, along with using an operation that is frequently the same as the usual design (if you follow a chain of links down, and then go all the way up); this suggests that an approach which retains the regular Back button and adds an "Undo follow" button to go to the document you were on before. Since Forward is relatively rarely used, it could reverse both of these operations, depending on which you did (i.e., undo history navigation).

Re-inventing the wheel? (2)

Chris Mattern (191822) | more than 10 years ago | (#4983546)

> They propose a system that records all pages visited.

"Good lord, man, you've invented the history list!"

Chris Mattern
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