~robcee/ more than just sandwiches

15 October 2009 @ 11am

Firebug, Mozilla

Firebug Features Poll part 1

Last week I did a little informal polling via Twitter and Rypple asking users what their favorite and least favorite features of Firebug were. I will be the first person to admit that this isn’t exactly rigorously scientific as we only had a limited number of respondents from a possibly limited sample space (mostly English speaking Twitter users, ultimately connected to me with only a few levels of indirection). Still, the results were interesting in that they confirmed what I suspected about the majority of people using Firebug. I fully expect that there are other types of users who more-strongly gravitate towards other features.

Favorite Firebug Features

The break-down in exploding 3D pie chart format shows that 55% of users call the Inspector their hands-down favorite feature. In reality, this is probably closer to 73% if you combine the HTML tab which 18% reported as their favorite. When most people think “inspect” or “html” the next feature they describe is “being able to modify the CSS or see the layout of that node in the HTML panel”.

The next favorite feature is a tie between the Net panel and the Console. It’s possible that since I first collected the responses that the tie has been broken, but certainly not by much, and probably not within a suitable margin for error. The remaining 9% of responses were incomprehensible internet sounds. The cosmic background static of emerging consciousness.

How does this help? Well, it certainly tells us where we need to focus our efforts. We have seen a few errors with the Inspector over the past couple of years and think in version 1.5, we’re going to have most of them fixed. Annoying highlighter offsets and weird z-index issues should be a thing of the past thanks to work by contributor Mike Ratcliffe who came to us through the Firebug lite project.

I’m going to follow-up a bit later with the results of the “least favorite feature” question. They’re a bit harder to make sense of as the answers weren’t quite as obviously clear. Please let us know if this pie chart matches (or doesn’t) what you think is your favorite feature, too. This isn’t the end of the question — we’re just getting started.


Posted by
15 October 2009 @ 12pm

I think your informal study was at least a little bit flawed. If I had to pick my favorite feature I would probably say the debugger, but I think that many features are critical to my work.

Posted by
Daniel Nautré
15 October 2009 @ 12pm

Inspect is a very useful feature for sure, it really helps me debugging my CSS. The console and the net panel are also very useful, no doubt about it. The 2 things I never use are the CSS and the DOM panel, they seems kinda redundant.

keep up with the good work, firebug changed my life (at least the part of my life where i build websites).

Posted by
15 October 2009 @ 1pm

@Bill: you say you think it was a little bit flawed, could you explain why? I stated up-front in the first paragraph that it was informal, non-scientific and from a small sample set.

Still, your vote for the debugger has been counted!

[...] Post original de Rob Campbell Aquí [...]

[...] is the second part of the Firebug Features Poll (part 1 is here). This time, focusing on the answers to the question: What is your least favorite Firebug feature. [...]

Posted by
20 October 2009 @ 3pm

There are several very different segments in the firebug user base. I would guess that about 10-15% of the firebug users don’t use it to actually do anything, simply to play around looking at stuff. Here where I work that group consists of the people performing QA. Among them they mostly use the inspect stuff and the net panel to monitor bad requests. Out of the rest I suspect that about half are dealing with design and half dealing with functionality. From personal experience based on how my coworkers use it, the designers are going to obviously use the inspect related functionality, and the coders will use the Console, Script, HTML and Net tabs. Additionally I know there exists a small, yet significant, user population which uses an entirely different set of functionality than everyone else. These are the ones who extend firebug with things like Firediff or YSlow. The features that these people use may be entirely different than whatever everyone else uses but nevertheless are just as important.

At least the following “user personalities” exist:
1. viewers – use firebug to view aspects of a page/set of pages (guessing 15% of users)
2. skinners – use firebug to help debug designs (guessing 42%)
3. coders – use firebug to help debug javascript, server issues, etc (guessing 42%)
4. extenders – extend firebug with new functionality they want/need (guessing 1%)

As a user in any of those personalities, you would likely use Firebug very different than someone else.

I think it was a bit flawed because:
1. whatever our favorite feature is at the moment is likely to change.
2. the segmented nature of firebug’s userbase should give you several favorite features
3. with an open-ended question like this we cannot know if responses that say the same thing really mean the same feature or if they mean something completely different

Being as 3/4 of your responses listed basically the same feature, I strongly question the validity of the survey. Without a doubt the inspect related functionality will be high on everybody’s list, but probably not more than 60% overall.

Posted by
20 October 2009 @ 7pm

hi again, Bill.

Thanks for returning and writing this excellent analysis. It’s blog-worthy in its own right.

I think your examples of personalities are pretty good. It’s something I’ve thought for awhile about our user base. I expect there’s also some overlap among them. Some coders and skinners will be using extensions. Some skinners code. Everybody uses the Inspector at some time. Sometimes you just want to hack a little JS for a bookmarklet or Greasemonkey… I’m not sure extenders are their own distinct user type as most people will find extensions to assist them in whatever development or analysis task they have. Or use other extensions within Firefox like the Web Developer Toolbar or LiveHTTPHeaders.

While my poll wasn’t exactly comprehensive, I believe it paints a pretty accurate picture of what the majority of users turn to Firebug for. I don’t think anyone will argue that the Inspector and HTML+CSS views are where a lot of people spend a lot of their time. I have a feeling that your percentages of personalities are a little off and that the skinners probably outweigh the coders by 10-15%, but it’s hard to say for sure. Hopefully at some point we’ll be able to back this up with real scientific data, but for now, it’s just interesting to hear about how (some!) people are using Firebug.

Thanks for the feedback!

Posted by
Mark T.
21 October 2009 @ 6pm

I am in charge of the UI of an enterprise product, and my work encompasses both CSS and JavaScript. When building a very dynamic page, CSS is often used for functional placement of page elements, JavaScript is the logic behind the components, and the XHR requests in the console give visibility into the AJAX calls being made for additional data.

I understand that designers can be very focused on the CSS styling, but a generalized dynamic UI guy/gal also spends a large amount of time making sure the page elements are positioned correctly. Maybe the roles in a web design and development house are more clearly delineated.