Tracking State & Tabs

Submitted by Olivier Jacquet on Tue, 2009-03-10 - 11:11

When building a website you often need to know where the user is on the website to offer them context specific content and help them on their way. The problem here is that still a lot of builders do this by keeping explicit information about the user's location in a cookie or in the session. This is problematic since it limits the possibilities for the user when he visits your website. Also, since tabs are common in the browser it is not unusual for a user to open several tabs from one website that look interesting and that will be read after the current page is done.

A common use case is:

  • View list of options
  • Open each interesting option in its own tab
  • View details of each option in its respective tab

The attached screen cast shows a site where, because the state is tracked in an incorrect way, the server shows me information related to an option I'm not browsing at the moment.

Transcript of events in the video:

  • A first page with a list of options
  • Open 2 options in new tabs
  • Switch to first option in first tab
  • Click on link which should show more information about first option but shows me information about second option

This, imo, error is easy to handle. Just keep the information about which option the user is browsing in the url and you should always be able to show the correct content.

When browsing online stores and similar sites this is one of the most frustrating site behaviors. As more and more users become more experienced and start using all the capabilities of their browsers it is important to keep in mind that when users browse a website they like to be able to use the site the way they feel like.

Oh, and another seriously frustrating issue is when a form does not allow you to submit it by pressing enter button. You've just moved your hand from the mouse to the keyboard to enter some information, why force me to move my hand back?! Please pay attention to that!