Activity is the new download

So hip, just like silver is the new gold

Last week I began some work on some ideas for a richer, interactive user notification system for Thunderbird.

Status Bar

Currently the status bar acts as one of the only notification systems to the user.  However the status bar is a steady stream of temporal plain text messages.  The messages are helpful if you understand what they are indicating, otherwise to most people they only convey general activity happening.  In general the messages end up lacking meaning because there is too much information running by.

A First Approach

Initially I took an approach of an interactive status bar that looked a little bit like the awesome bar replacing the status bar.  Instead of just giving plain text messages we could make richer messages with visualizations.

  • Linked Messages
  • Progress Meters

The linked message could open thunderbird up to the account or message they were referring to.  Next is to add some access to status history where people can see a list of what Thunderbird had done and perform actions (like restart) on those past activities.

  • History of Activity
  • Interactive History Items

The New Download

After seeing the amazing work that has been done on the download manager in firefox it seemed like a good second approach to the problem could be to reuse much of what they’ve done.

The download manager in firefox is solving a similar set of problems.  We want to allow people to watch the progress of a specific set of (likely asynchronous) activities. We also want to ensure that people can view the list of past activities in case they want to manage them.

Should we continue using a simple text status message?  The progress bar included in the status bar gives a visualization for time to complete an action.  But do we need to help people visualize what is happening in the background?

And then instead of an inline popup for the history list we open up the download manager window which allows for searching and management of items inside the list.

Nothing is set yet, most likely a final version will be taking bits of both approaches.  Still lots of work to go, more comments and ideas are always appreciated!

23 responses to “Activity is the new download

  1. ovidiu

    1. essentially resolves one missing thing for outlook/oe parity, the send receive feedback. Which is confusing anyway regardless of outlook experience ..
    2. adds great feedback resulting in “reliability” from the user + usage pov
    3. could that stand for “undo history” (and more, of course ..) as in so many apps now?

    great ..

  2. Håkan W

    Looks promising!

  3. Ray

    The Tb Progress History Extension should be something for you to look at when Thunderbird activity.

    You can find it here: http://forum.addonsmirror.net/index.php?showtopic=2031&mode=threaded

  4. Love the activity manager idea and the more verbose status bar info.
    I could only suggest to use less of the space for the progress meter, have it avoid colouring either the info type icon and the activity dropdown button at either ends.

  5. maddox

    Eudora always had a nice status pane.

    I found the following video on youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x26c4FTRaU8 where a guy shows how to configure eudora. In this video at 4:30 you see the status pane in action. it shows you precisly what the client is doing. Which account load which mail, how big is and so on. Always three actions at a time.

    I’m dying to see this in thunderbird. I looking forward your work (addon or builtin?)

  6. Blair McBride

    Seeing those mockups, I prefer the more visual feedback methods of using the progress bar. I figure I’m already reading tons of text emails, I’d rather not have to read more just to figure out what’s going on in my mail client. It takes time and cognitive effort.

    Saying that, the “About 1 minute remaining” part of the status message has its place. If its an action that may take some time (such as sending photos on a slow connection), I don’t want to have to remember when it started, just to estimate how long it will be before it finishes. Showing the approximate time reminding fixes that.

  7. Kent James

    One issue I face with junk processing status is there are different levels of progress. Currently the status bar gives % complete of each email download. But because that is many per second, it just shows a series of random flashes. Me, I want to show % progress in processing a batch of 1000 messages for junk. So there are sometimes multiple levels of progress. Many programs have two different bars to solve this problem.

  8. Gabe

    Too much information.

    I don’t CARE which of my accounts is being checked, or how many messages have been downloaded. The only events I really care about as a user are:

    * a message arrives in my inbox
    * the server rejects my credentials.

    I don’t particularly even want a throbber telling me that messages are being checked. The client should be intelligent about getting me my messages as quickly as it can, and I should be able to trust it to do that for me.

    Rather than checking on a fixed schedule, my mail client should adjust the frequency of its checks based on how many messages I tend to receive on a given day at a given time. “Checking for messages” should not be a user-visible process.

  9. Fabrice

    Some good ideas but useless for TB.
    This kind of gadget are using CPU (and increase global warming) for few interresting information.
    Are “we” looking at our TB every time? no

  10. In general the messages end up lacking meaning because there is too much information running by.

    Not only that, the information is besides incorrect.

  11. Functional status-bar is THE BEST, I think.

  12. Tom Servo

    I like the retooled download window (Message Activities). I’d figure it allows for easy diagnosing when my mail servers are acting queer again.

  13. Crow

    It will also be nice to have something indicating total kb downloaded of message. I use GPRS to download and like having a strict control on how many MB I’m downloading.

  14. > I don’t CARE which of my accounts is being checked
    I disagree with Gabe. People with several accounts would like to know which account is being checked e.g. to see if every account is checked for new mails and how many new mails every account is downloading.
    The Progress Meters and History of Activity are also good ideas for a better visualization of the actions of Tb.

  15. I also disagree with Gabe (and therefore agree with Thomas). To me, it is important to see granularity in message checking, due my slow connection. However… I agree with Gabe in that it should be a transparent process – unless I want that additional information. In other words: progressive disclosure.

  16. Premson

    Its really a good idea, I’ve got too many filters and a really slow connection, would love to see when my thunderbird is hung or actually processing the filters, while I am waiting.

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  20. Fritz

    Finally TB gets decent feedback/responsiveness. Thank you!

  21. I hope this feature will get more mature soon. It’s pretty unusable at the moment.

  22. jlanza

    Option in “A First Approach” resambles a lot to what Eudora used to have.

    It is more than enough ;) Hope you get it done.

  23. Daniel Nebdal

    I have to say, as of Thunderbird 6, this is still not very good. I’m moving a few thousand mail between two IMAP accounts, and another some hundred between another pair. For a while I got flashing messages where I could sometimes, if I stared really hard, make out the “x of y”-messages (though not which account they were connected to), but after a while they just … disappeared, though the actual moving seems to have continued. Much later one of them showed up as completed in the Activity list. Right now I’m sitting here and I have no idea if the larger of the two has stopped (as it sometimes does) or not, or for that matter how far it is.

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This is the blog personality of Bryan Clark. I'm a designer in a world of open source. This blog reflects mostly writing about Design, Open Source, Economics, Beer, Wine, and Dogs. There's more information about me on this site or you can contact me directly at clarkbw@gmail.com.

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