Auto-Complete on Subjects

To make an initial start on our new search aspirations we need to begin testing and trying out some of our improved searching ideas.

Quick Search

Our first step in this direction is to add an auto-complete on subjects in the Quick Search entry.  It’s important to get a lot of feedback on our search improvements so integrating our improvements with the current search is paramount. New behaviors need to be pushed out during our alpha releases to gain visibility and testing.  This improvement doesn’t alter the current search behavior at all, everything is planned to act in parallel.

What will change?

The quick search will try to help you find message subjects by auto-completing on the subject name. The subjects it offers for auto-complete are searched from the available subjects in the folder Thunderbird displays in the current view.

For Example:

  • Type in the name “address” into the quick search entry
  • The auto-complete will give a list that match the word “address” somewhere in the subject
  • Selecting an item in the list will complete the whole subject name and search the message view for that name

Lo-fi mockup of Quick Search Auto-Complete on Subject

The auto-complete is only planned to work for subjects at the moment.  Hopefully we’ll be able to start expanding this soon to include email addresses and names too.  Once we have some experience with the auto-complete widget we can start expanding it’s scope a little.

Here’s the current design for the layout of the rich-item widget for matching message subjects.

There are a couple of other tweaks to the {meta} area that need to be improved.  The light colors are a little hard to see and it might be better to brighten up the sender names.  Also it could be good to add the date the message was sent. Perhaps like this:


ex: Bryan to you,david,gary 3 hours ago

What will stay the same?

The quick search should continue to search only in the current folder / view.  This may change sometime in the future, but only when we have a better solution for that problem.

Also it will still work for searches that aren’t subjects, like senders.  When you select a different search type, like “to or cc”, then it won’t continue to auto-complete on subjects; only when you select “subject” or “subject or sender” types.

When is this happening?

Everything is up in the air for discussion right now as we work through an incremental design that makes sense.  The implementation pieces are going to come together soon when the new toolkit auto-complete widget from firefox is pulled into Thunderbird (see bug 370306 and bug 309081) and we figure out the best strategy for quickly searching a set of subjects from the current view.


11 thoughts on “Auto-Complete on Subjects

  1. How do you deal with email that’s sent to a bunch of people?

    Does it help to do something like this:

    ex: Bryan to you,david,gary+30others 3 hours ago

  2. Who came up with the idea of underlining the matches ? Isn’t it clear enough when it’s just bold (it’s twice different now). IMHO it’s ugly and makes it too distracting. Same goes on for FF3 idd.

  3. will: exactly, we’ll have to cut off the number of people at a certain point and then possibly offer the total. However I think if we kept simple at first and just cut off at a certain size you’ll see at least the first couple.

    Karel: I think you’re right that the underline might be a bit much. I’ll try it without the underlines and see if only the bold is enough indication.

  4. Nice idea, here are my thoughts:
    – Make the design in a way it doesn’t need expanded search bar width, many people have already very crowded toolbars.
    – I regularly receive e-mails with sender addresses longer than the subject. I suggest displaying only the sender or recipient on the second line (whichever is more relevant for the current folder).
    – What about the same font size for both lines? Something similar to the folder tooltips. This way the displayed subject could be longer.
    – What happens if the subject is very long and I search for a word near the end? This must be addressed somehow, otherwise the displayed string might appear to be out of context.

  5. – Why does it need to show the results in a drop-down list? Couldn’t it just use the full list view? Just as Gmail uses shows the results of a search in the mail list view (although they don’t support incremental search).
    – If it does need to be a drop-down list, you could let the list extend beyond the left edge of the text field.
    – Are there any chance this could be an extension, allowing faster iterations during development.

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