Tab Impact On Total Time Spent

As everyone in the industry knows, Nielsen/NetRatings no longer relies on page views instead preferring total time spent. This makes sense since ajax applications can have 1 page view, but keep a user for an hour. Not to mention other things like video or Flash. The use of time spent is likely much more accurate. In my mind “time spent” is time actually spent on the site (I’m a literal guy).

This of course raises an interesting question. How do tabs influence this metric? Take the following situation as an example. A user visits a home page, and opens a link in a new tab. Then finds another link and opens it in a new [background] tab. That’s 3 tabs in 1 visit (assume visit to be 30 minutes).

Before tabs, most browser sessions would look like this:
Linear Pathing

There’s now an increasing number that will look like this (gray is a tab not in view):
Tabbed Pathing

If we assume total time on the site is time between the first and last page, we potentially undercount the total time on sites that list information (for example Digg). The total time to make those clicks could be < 10 seconds, but the time spent reading those two page alone might be > 10 minutes. Many tab power-users from what I’ve read around the web over the years essentially use them as a way to bookmark their “to read” list (including myself). It also undercounts sites like Gmail which are ajax based (1 page) but can be used for several minutes.

If we use javascript to “ping” (call back by placing a tracker gif) the analytics service every x seconds to see if the page is still open, we potentially double count since a user can’t be in 3 tabs at once. The clock would be counting 3 seconds for every 1 second the user is actually looking at the page.

This raises the question: are sites that are heavily used by Firefox, Safari, Opera and IE7 site underestimated or overestimated because of the way users browse the site? How do you accurately tell how long a view is when a user can have multiple tabs?

Another example is someone who keeps their webmail open in a tab all afternoon for easy access. They may only check it 1x measuring no more than 1 minute in actual attention. But it’s open for 5 hrs. What is the real time on the page? You can measure my interaction (opening/closing mail). But what if I’m reading an email for an hour (it’s a really complicated one)? How does that compare to just leaving it open in the background?

This is really no different than using new windows, the difference being that most people seem to have found windows to be annoyance, while tabs are a “feature”. The increase in usage and popularity in a time where visit length matters raises an interesting question. How do you measure it?

One assumption is that it’s just a small percentage of the population, which is likely true. The problem with this assumption is that it’s one subject to change as the browserscape matures and users learn about new features. Another assumption is to just account for all time a page is open, even if it’s not visible. The downside I see here is that it’s pretty inaccurate. As a content producer I’d like to know if my content is used, or just loaded on a users computer. If I were an advertiser I’d care even more.

I’m not sure how analytics firms approach this. In a sense it’s similar to the “hotel problem“. Perhaps just something you need to decide upon and live with.

Firefox Tip: Tab Management

Some of you may know this one, but some may not. You can middle click (press the mouse wheel) on any link to open it in a new tab. To close a tab, just middle click on the tab. This is often much faster than going to the red “X”.

By default Firefox only shows the tab bar when multiple tabs are open. This is done to keep the UI simple, and maximize the space available for the page itself. Other browsers such as IE 7 keep the Tab UI visible at all times. If you prefer this, you can change it by going into Tools -> Options and clicking on the “Tabsâ€? tab. Then check the box next to “Always show the tab bar”.

Always Show Tabs

Firefox Tip: Full Screen

Doing a presentation and don’t want all those open windows in the background distracting eyes? You can just press F11 on your keyboard to go full screen. You’ll have some compact navigation on the top and nothing else on your display but your browser. And yes, you can still use tabs. This is perfect for situations where you want to be a little more professional.

If you want to go completely full screen, checkout the fuller screen extension. This extension will give you the ability to go full screen with more options including having no obvious signs of a browser interface. Think of it as being like PowerPoint, but with a website. Even more perfect if your the type of person who uses S5 for presentations.

Firefox Tip: Where is…?

I know many average users don’t know this, but there is a search feature built into every page on the web. Just hit command “F”, or go to the Edit menu and select “Find”. Enter your term in the bar that appears on the bottom of the screen and press enter. If you select the “Highlight all” option it will even highlight the matching terms for you. Press enter repeatedly to see all the matches on the page. This technique can save you a lot of time by preventing you from needing to scan an entire page for a term. Searching can save you a lot of time by letting you jump to what you want to reach.

You can try it on this page by searching for “testing search”. As you type it in, notice how the browser searches while you enter it. You don’t even need type in the entire word or phrase most of the time.

Find As You Type

Firefox Tip: Import Later

Were you someone who just wanted to try Firefox, and ended up keeping it? I know some people decided not to import their IE settings and since regret that because they had bookmarks they wanted to keep. Well don’t worry, you can still import them. Just go to the “File” menu and select “Import…” the wizard will guide you to importing your bookmarks/settings from your old browser into Firefox. It will take under a minute.

Firefox Tip: Send To A Friend

I’m pretty sure many ignore this handy feature. Find a page you want to share with a coworker, friend, family member? Simply right click on the page (or go to the “File” menu) and select “Send Link”. Firefox will create a new email with the title of the page you found and include the link in the body. Add your friend(s) email address and send it off. Sharing links is easy.

Send To A Friend

Firefox Tip: Customize Your Browser UI

Did you know you can customize your browsers interface. Want a print button in the browser toolbar like you had in IE? “New Tab” button? Download Manager? No problem. Just right click on the toolbar and select customize. You’ll see a window with various icons appear.

From here you can just select what you want by dragging it to the desired position in the toolbar. You can remove an item from the toolbar by just dragging it off. Feel free to reposition items as well. It’s all customizable via drag & drop. You can set it up any way you like. It’s your browser.

Don’t worry about messing things up, if you don’t like what you did and want to go back to the defaults just press the “Restore Default Set” button in that window.

Firefox Tips

I decided to do a little series of posts I’ll call “Firefox Tips”. The goal isn’t to entertain or educate technical users. The goal is to be (mostly) quick little things that common users likely just overlook or never bother to explore. This will last “about a month” because I haven’t decided exactly how many will make the cut. Most will only be a few sentences to not bore and get to technical, they will vary in “difficulty” (though pretty basic stuff) and be focused on getting the most out of your browser without being a geek.

So without further delay, I bring you “Firefox Tips”… Creative eh?

They will be in the Mozilla category as well as a new Firefox Tips category for those who want to link just to them. Feel free to leave comments on other uses/suggestions regarding a tip. If it’s a really good comment I may update the post accordingly.