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What Happened To The Feeling Lucky Search In Firefox 4's Awesome Bar?

Firefox 4 is about to ship! And it contains a massive amount of enhancements, especially UI enhancements, blazing fast JavaScript, and more HTML5. I'll probably write more about these hot new features and how important Firefox is to the international community but first, this.

In the next week millions of people will begin upgrading to Firefox 4. A large number of them will be upgrading from Firefox 3 so they'll be disappointed to learn that when you type a name or phrase into the Awesome Bar it no longer takes you directly to the website you are looking for. Technically this feature was called Browse By Name but most people probably understand it as performing a "feeling lucky" search in Google. The forums and support site are already filling up with complaints.

Don't worry! The feature was just disabled, it wasn't removed entirely. To get this feature back, change your keyword.url setting or install this nifty addon: the Lucky Bar

If you were just here trying to fix it then you can go now, the rest is a rant...

In Firefox, all UI changes are hotly debated by a passionate community of users. I was pretty passionate about this feature and I'm sad to see it go because it made Firefox stand out as a superior web browser. Many people will encounter the new default behavior in Firefox 4 and will not think that there is a solution and may never find this web page.

The arguments for disabling this feature were pretty weak. People were worried that the feeling lucky search was unpredictable and slow. In my experience, it works 99% of the time which is more than good enough. If I ever want to get raw search results then I type cmd+K to use the search bar. As for slow, it does add a couple milliseconds but you don't actually need the feeling lucky search for most searches because they will be in your history; the Awesome Bar will autocomplete them for you. Thus, it is not slow in practice, it is just there when you need it.

It's nice not to think about URLs but rather to think about web pages as topics or ideas. This fits well with my brain and that's how I want to navigate the web. As the search engine quickly became our main entry point into the web, the web was able to transform into a big blob of ideas and information. Your thoughts and questions are indeed reflected in web pages; IP addresses and named URLs are just technical details that you don't need to care much about.

This UI decision was made quite a while ago but if you want to fall down the rabbit hole and read the heated back and forth debate, then take a look at bug 593709, bug 323801, and bug 172389.

UPDATE: Per comments, I forgot to mention that another major argument from the UX team was that Browse By Name violated the least surprise and consistent result principles by being non-deterministic (type something and one of 3 things can happen). But rules are made to be broken and in this case I would argue to make a compromise since the feature works 99% of the time. Without it, I feel quite crippled actually.

UPDATE: The LuckyBar addon does in fact use the Browse By Name service, not exactly the Feeling Luck search. The key difference is that Browse By Name will not redirect to a random site if the term is ambiguous, which is what you want. I actually didn't know the Feeling Lucky button worked differently because I haven't used it since 1996.

UPDATE: As I predicted, a mere 24hrs after the Firefox 4 release and this is a frequently reported issue on the Firefox Support site.

  • Re: What Happened To The Feeling Lucky Search In Firefox 4's Awesome Bar?

    Whether we like to admit it or not, it's also a financial decision. Firefox doesn't make money if users don't see Google ads to click.

    The beauty of Firefox, though, is that we can tweak it. It would be a lot harder to "fix" something like this on a browser like Chrome or IE.

  • Re: What Happened To The Feeling Lucky Search In Firefox 4's Awesome Bar?

    I disagree that URLs are technical details not to care about. That may be true for paths, but domains are important. Not paying attention to domains leads to phishing, or the the RWW/Facebook debacle[1].

    You also neglected to link the bug where the UX team argued for this change[2]. In the time since the BBN/keyword search feature was created, users expectations have changed, and BBN violated the "least surprise" and "consistent result" principles by being non-deterministic (type something, one of 3 things can happen).

    [1] http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/facebook_wants_to_be_your_one_true_login.php

    [2] https://bugzilla.mozilla.org/show_bug.cgi?id=565966

  • Re: What Happened To The Feeling Lucky Search In Firefox 4's Awesome Bar?

    @gkoberger I thought that at first but I don't think it was ever an argument in *favor* of making the change. I can't find any evidence of it in the bugs as contributing to the decision, anyway. FWIW, the Google toolbar in IE and Chrome also bypasses ads; it lets you autocomplete searches in the location bar.

    @James thanks, I did indeed forget about the UX argument and have updated the post accordingly. I don't agree with their argument at all but, yeah, this also led to the final decision.

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