New in Firefox: Cognitive Shield Tab Concept
Article by George Norman
On 24 Mar 2009
Opening a new tab (keyboard shortcut: Ctrl + t) in the latest stable version of the Mozilla developed browser, Firefox 3.0.7 leads you to a blank page. The Mozilla Foundation acknowledged the fact that such default behaviour does not provide much in the functionality department and consequently thought hard of a means to make the new tab screen much more appealing - and here is where Cognitive Shield comes in.

“We believe that the new tab screen should have two main functions: (A) To show you the sites you are most likely to be interested in going to, and (B) to not distract you. That’s the paradox: by design success is when the pages we show are maximally interesting/distracting, but an explicit goal is to not interrupt your flow. No matter where we put the links to your most visited sites (and their latest news), it always seemed to be a distraction, based upon our own perception and the feedback from thousands of testers. The cognitive shield hides the distractions until you move the mouse. Then the links fade in quickly,” explains Mozilla Labs.


The Cognitive Shield is designed to look like a ring of 8 circles. Each circle displays the icon of one of your most visited web pages, and as you would expect, will lead you to said web page. The catch is that in keeping with the “not wanting to interfere with your flow” theme, the circle will be displayed as a dull, grey set of icons – it is only when you point your mouse towards the Cognitive Shield that it becomes colorful and attractive.

The whole thing goes something like this: you open a new tab, and type in the URL of the site you wish to go, in the address bar. In this situation, your main goal is to access that site as soon as possible; consequently the Cognitive Shield will try not to interfere with your flow and as such you will only see a faded out image of the 8 circle ring. But if you open a new tab in order to access one of your most visited web pages, then all you have to do is hover the mouse over the circle and it will turn into a colorful list of your favorite locations on the web.

Mozilla Labs again: “If you are typing a destination into the navigation bar, then your locus of attention is on the place you are trying to go — so we should stay politely out of your cognitive way. Whether you are using the mouse is a good indicator of whether you are in a cognitive flow or not. That realization resolves the paradox: the links are there when you need then, and not when you don’t.”

If you would like to give Cognitive Shield a try, there are only two things that you must do:
1. Download Firefox 3.1 Beta 3 here.
2. Get the latest version of the New Tab prototype here.

A 3rd step would be very much appreciated by Mozilla: provide your feedback on cognitive Shield here.

Tags: Mozilla, Firefox, Cognitive Shield
About the author: George Norman
George is a news editor.
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