Drop down selects that learn
10 July 2005
A very common thing on the web with forms is that you have a drop down with lots of options that gets used often. It's a very convenient little widget that is used a lot on the web.
I've been thinking about a possible way to make these a big more user friendly by pushing the most popular options towards the top. By doing so, most selects will require little scrolling. Obviously the implementation depends a lot on the application. As a good example, look at the two drop downs on http://www.xe.com/ucc/ where the most common choices (EUR and USD) appear at the very top of the list.
In many cases you can't reorder the options within the drop down because the order might be alphabetic or something like "Not at all, Not very, Fairly, Very". Suppose most people select "Fairly", it would still not make sense to reorder the options to be "Fairly, Not very, Not at all, Very". But, let's instead focus on those that can be reordered to help the user.
A very common one is the font-type-selection as seen in M$ Word and OpenOffice. You see the most common choices first and then follows the rest. Here's an example of this that does not learn to reorder itself.
A less common but equally useful type is that one where every selection of an item increases its position by one no matter how popular the one above is. To test that here's an example
Last but not least is my favorite. This one remembers the popularity of each item. The problem with example 2 above is that it can change the order of the drop down to rapidly, potentially making a very popular selection pushed down. With this example, every selection is remembered so that the very popular ones can't so easily be moved. Try the last example
Conclusion None I'm afraid. You have to decide for yourself. The reason I've written this is to get feedback. What I'm interested in is what usability experts think. One has to bare in mind that usability isn't just about the first-time-use experience. It's also about the long term usability where people are using a service perhaps as much as several times per day.
The third one is potentially very interesting to me because I might use it for the "filter options" in the IssueTrackerProduct. Currently, in the IssueTrackerProduct, the second example is being used to keep track of which section is most popular when you add a new issue
Write your comments below or email me.