Gravity on the Web


Computer commands of all kinds — speech, keyboard and mouse — are much easier to use when they’re consistent across programs.

At the base level, it’s important that common elements like drop-down menus act the same. You control drop-down menus without thinking — click on an element or use the Left, Right, Up, Down and Enter keys.

Consistent commands are the real-world equivalent of having the same gravity in every room, or keys turning the same way to unlock.

Web applications are looking more and more like standard computer programs, but sometimes the elements that look familiar don’t act the way we’re used to. Drop-down menus usually respond in a familiar way to the mouse, but often don’t respond to the Up, Down and Enter keys.

But perhaps things are getting better.

The first drop-down menus to show up on Google Docs didn’t respond to Left, Right, Up, Down and Enter. Then most of the folder-view drop-down menus were arrow key/Enter enabled, but not document menus. A few months ago document menus changed from looking tab-like to looking more menu like, but still didn’t respond to arrow keys and Enter. Then, sometime in the last few weeks, the Doc menus were arrow key/Enter enabled (the change didn’t show up on the update notice).

The keyboard shortcuts enable better speech navigation as well. I can say, for instance, “3 Down Enter” to choose an item in an open menu, “3 Down 2 Right Enter” to choose a color on the open color menu, or “7 Right Wait 3” to take a three-second peak at each of the seven successive menus starting with the file menu open.

This is a great trend.

Now all we need is keyboard shortcuts to open the menus in the first place. We also need the same kind of control in all Web applications, including Google spreadsheets.

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