Your own space in Chrome
How real-life use inspired innovation on the Chrome browser. Sabine Borsay and David Roger from the Google Safety Engineering Center describe their collaborative efforts on the new Chrome profiles feature.
“My whole family has been using the Chrome browser on one shared computer for some time now,” explains David Roger, who works as a software developer at Google in Paris. “Sometimes, we have up to 50 websites open at the same time. For example, when I’m trying to find a YouTube video I’ve seen recently, I also see Minecraft video clips in the search history – it’s a real mess.” It’s unlikely David is the only person who experiences this problem. It’s not uncommon for families to share a computer and the same Chrome browser. This has especially been the case during the coronavirus pandemic. Parents, caregivers and their kids are reading, researching and looking for sources of entertainment all at the same time. Confusion can arise when personal settings are lost or search histories get mixed up.
“Ideas often come from people who are close to the product.”
David Roger, Software Developer.
Sabine Borsay knows exactly what David Roger is talking about. She is the Product Manager at the Google Safety Engineering Center (GSEC), Google's global development center for privacy and Internet safety in Munich. She presented this particular problem at one of GSEC’s Tech Days, which are organized to allow cross-functional teams to work together on a range of exciting challenges. The idea of creating individual Chrome profiles was conceived on one of these days. This feature is now available in Chrome and it allows every user to create a personalized profile that can be selected each time the browser is opened. For example, you can change background colors, and bookmarks and passwords can be organized and saved individually.
It is interesting to dig deeper into the process of developing Chrome profiles from the initial idea through to final implementation. Product Managers like Sabine Borsay spend every day working on a specific application such as the Chrome browser. “We consider how Chrome should be developed over the next few years. We also think about the kinds of problems we should address and how we should integrate solutions,” Sabine explains. “Much of our work is based on things we encounter in our own lives,” David Roger agrees. “Many of our projects at Google start this way and ideas often come from people who are close to the product.”
Once Sabine received the green light to work on Chrome profiles, she put together a team of ten people from various departments, including user experience experts and developers from David Roger’s team. David has been working on the development of Chrome for more than ten years and has been involved in various projects, including user interface design. His team built a prototype of Chrome profiles, which was tested by a specially selected user group.
Meanwhile, Sabine worked with user research experts to identify a group of people who use Chrome privately, at work or with other users. “In addition to interviewing these people face-to-face about their experiences, we asked them to keep a diary of how they used Chrome profiles for two months.” The profiles team also asked users to describe what happened when they encountered parts of the application they didn't understand.
“We consider how Chrome should be developed over the next few years.”
Sabine Borsay, Product Manager
Back in Paris, David analyzed data from Chrome Beta users. Users of Chrome Beta are allowed to try new features before other users, and can agree to submit usage data to Google for product development purposes. The information gathered from hundreds of thousands of Chrome Beta users helped throughout the development of Chrome profiles. For example, some people had trouble clicking on a specific button, while others were unable to understand a piece of explanatory text. David explains that changes and improvements can be made to the product based on this kind of feedback, and that an iterative working method is often used when developing digital products. Users are given access to a prototype and provide feedback on potential problems. The developers then modify the product and submit it for re-testing.
Specific issues were flagged up during testing, such as Chrome being slow at startup. This prompted David to summon his developers together for a hackathon. “We focused all our energies for a whole week on speeding up the browser again.” The team looked at a number of possible methods. “We finally identified several different technologies, which we presented to our colleagues in Munich,” David continues.
Sabine has fond memories of this phase of the project. “It’s times like this when we work like a start-up. We try a lot of things, talk to each other every day and target the best solution.” The ability to use different Chrome profiles has recently gone live, but the work is far from over for the team led by Sabine Borsay and David Roger. They are continuing to work on the product using feedback and suggestions for improvement, including from David’s family, who, of course, now have their own individual Chrome profiles.
Photos: Stephanie Füssenich (4), Florian Generotzky (3).