Opera’s speed dial tool a winner

In April Opera added a new feature to their browser called Speed Dial: just like a phone with your friends and family, you could now store your 9 favourite websites on the home page of your browser, showing every time you open a new window. When I downloaded it, I felt it was a bit of a gimmick and unlikely to hold my attention – but 6 weeks later, it’s an essential part of my browsing experience, and it means I use Opera more than Firefox.
Screenshot of Opera's Speed Dial facility

Why does it work for me?

1. It speeds things up

Clicking on a bookmark in your standard favourites takes a click on a menu option, then a scan to find what you’re looking for, then another click. Even if your favourites are stored on a browser link bar, you still have to aim for an area roughly 2,000px square (using the example of 456 Berea Street). I won’t even bother describing having to click in a browser bar, type in an address, hitting return on the keyboard … *yawn*.

Speed Dial, on the other hand, gives me a single click on a panel about 47,500px square – almost 25 times the next best option described above.

2. It follows the 80/20 rule

I read something a while ago that 50% of web traffic worldwide would eventually go through about 20 websites in total, despite the millions of sites and options available to us. I think people’s personal browsing habits are similar: whilst they might visit hundreds of sites a week (eg. via Search Engines looking for information on a specific task or topic), there are core sites they come back to again and again. For me, that’s my favourite news and sports sites, Google, Hotmail, and a few specialised sites relating to hobbies – all of which are candidates to fit into the nine possible sites on Speed Dial.

3. I don’t have to think

Steve Krug defines bad usability as where a lot of little difficulties in navigation, unnoticed in themselves, that add up to a long-term headache for the user. I’d suggest Speed Dial provides the opposite – lots of easy little decisions (via quick visual recognition of choice, eg. the distinctive blue of Hotmail) for me to get to my favourite sites, that add up to an easy experience of not having to think about where I’m navigating to.

4. It gives you a snapshot of current content

    Within the 47,500px I can see for each site link, I can set Speed Dial to give me a current snapshot of the content presently on each. This combines with the quick visual recognition (see 3 above) so that I can spot at a glance if any of my favourites have new, interesting content I want to check out.

My set up

Row 1 features Google, Hotmail and the Sydney Morning Herald – easily the 3 sites I look at most often. I’m tempted to ditch Google out of here in favour of the Google Toolbar, but this would mean I had less real estate to click on (see 1 above)

Row 2 features 456 Berea Street (web stuff) and Spoilerfix, an aggregation of rumours about TV Show Lost. There’s an open spot here: I used to have music site Pandora, but it’s now been shut down to be US-only. Suggestions welcome.

Row 3 is the least trafficked sites: three news and sports sites from the UK and South Africa.

Truth be told, even within the 9 favourites there’s a definite hierarchy – possibly a 50%/35%/15% split between rows 1, 2 and 3.

Could it be improved?

Good as it is, I think Opera can still make a few improvements:

  • A “Zoom” option could be added, say, to give a part of the page or a larger snapshot when the user hovers over each site. This would enable an even faster decision about whether today’s content is worth a look.
  • Similarly, an RSS feed could be incorporated if available, perhaps as a dropdown similar to what’s possible in the browser bar. This would create proximity between visual recognition of the site, and a list of new pages.
  • I’d remove the Search Bar at the top of the page – I hardly notice it, don’t use it, and as such in my opinion it’s just noise.
  • My application (see screenshot above) only uses about 60% of my screen. An option to expand the view to the full screen width would enable more content to be viewed.

All in all though, I think Opera’s on to a winner, and the attempt by Firefox to replicate the functionality is nowhere near as good. Let’s hope it gains them some extra market share in the new browser competition.

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