grab from top of compfight – a Flickr search tool
grab from New York Times – a Newspaper
Maybe it is part of the movement toward a browser-based OS or maybe it is just copycats, but the left side, top and bottom of the browser window are becoming a space for toolbars of all kinds. Now that screen resolutions are becoming larger and in the case of laptops, wider there is an opportunity to provide persistent controls for these site that are becoming more application-like everyday.
This is clearly the beginning of the trend since there is no defacto use for this area. Some use it for highlighting content – during the election Twitter used the top toolbar to provide a quick jumping point to the political searches and filters. New York Times uses it as the front door to its newest social networking feature. So it is more tool-like in that case. The Compfight example treats the toolbar as the primary navigation point for the site. With the introduction of Vista’s ribbon toolbar the control/tool-like pattern may prevail in the long term. For now there is no clear leading use.
The left and bottom areas of the page are being utilized as well. Facebook introduced the persistent footer control panel. I am a fan of this since the idea got left on the cutting room floor for one of our projects. My being a fan however does not mean that It is a great pattern. I still have questions about the usability of such a pattern, especially given the discrepancy in its implementation. I can picture usability study scenarios where people glance right over the feature in search of more common and established controls.
But regardless of the questions and discrepancies, I enjoy that sites are exploring a better use of the space that is opening up for design.