So yahoo mail is going into major upgrade mode with overhauling of entire webmail application UI, new features and integrating with some of other yahoo channels from a single interface. Most of these changes I believe happened couple of weeks/months back but I noticed it recently. While the overall look has become very sleek but I was surprised to see introduction and change made to some key user interaction that contradicts mental model of how a user perceives that feature and adds new learning curve while dealing with the refurbished Yahoo Mail.
(Click on image thumbnails for bigger view)
For those who have not seen the new yahoo mail interface, the screen above shows you how the mail now looks in its new avatar. Prominent changes include introduction of lot of tab controls on top, ajax dropdown, overlay windows for actions, integration of applications on left hand side panel.
Earlier, on click of any mail, the mail used to open up in the same window. Now in the new version, the mail opens up as a separate page in a tab (see image below). For illustration example I have clicked the Jet airways mail below.
The mail opens in a new tab as shown above. Perhaps in the 1st instance a user doesn’t realize that the mail has opened in a tabbed format. It’s after clicking on Inbox and selecting any other mail for viewing, the realization comes that the mails are opening in tabbed format and user can jump on to the other previously opened mail without going to inbox and selecting the mail. Works really well when it is assumed that a user normally likes performing this task or that’s a normal mail surfer’s interaction pattern. What can be the implications of this tabbed view, will illustrate with another example later but from here would like to highlight a grave ‘flaw’ if I may put it in the normal interaction pattern of a mail surfer which yahoo has deviated from.
Those who are fluent with keyboard control always prefer pressing backspace button to move back to inbox. That is the mental model of any mail surfer for going back to inbox to check the mails. This is where yahoo mail blunders. Notice what happens when you click on backspace button.
On press of backspace, instead of opening inbox window, another tab opens up with a mail. After repeated instances like these or perhaps clicking manually on inbox link from the left you get to realize that the backspace button is now linked to opening of next mail below the previously opened mail. So what you get to see is the next mail in your inbox. Bad. How can yahoo assume that a user would like to view this mail only? Shouldn’t that be a user’s prerogative? IF that was not enough, the next example will illustrate on a major blunder that Yahoo has made with the backspace button.
I clicked on the backspace button and after realization that it is not linked to going back to inbox, I manually click on inbox and now want to open that Jetairways mail again. But where is that mail? And then I realize what the buggers at yahoo have done.
The backspace button is now linked to deleting a mail. Very bad interaction as the usual mental model that a user presumes is that pressing backspace leads back to previous page. This is the pattern followed in ALL webmails – gmail, hotmail, rediff, indiatimes and even previously in yahoo mail too. Many users will I bet not realize this also that they have unknowingly deleted their mail!
So now that mails open in different tabs and after realization that this is the model that will happen, I decided to check what happens when I click multiple mails. Since the idea from yahoo is for letting users surf seamlessly between different open stage mails without letting them move back to inbox, with each click the open tab on top navigation panel kept increasing. Will a user click any tab to close his mail and do ‘tab management’? I hope yahoo has done some user testing around this as many people might find this irritating (clicking open tabs again & again).
And as I suspected, this is what happened when I clicked multiple mails and didn’t bother to close the open tabs. As I was testing this feature, I was prepared to get a response like this but users who perhaps might miss the open tab mail reading concept and keep navigating through inbox link on left to read mails, might perhaps take a while to realize what this means and the entire concept of tabbed mail approach.
Like with any new rollout where major changes are made, there would be initial reluctance but over period people do get used to it. I am sure with yahoo mail also people will start adapting to the new features but if only yahoo would have not deviated from the key functionality interactions that are followed by all mail users across other sites and retained the same then it would have been perfect.