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The web application I am building has a custom right-click menu. I'm concerned that the user might not find this menu as normally right-clicking will only display the default browser's menu. Is there a standard way to make the user aware of custom right-click menus? Is there another way to show this information?

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Slightly OT, but why bother? Does it adds significant functionality that can't otherwise be added? Also: Are you adding or removing functionality? –  David Clarke May 7 '13 at 3:23
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4 Answers 4

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If you're worried people won't discover the context menu action, how about having a small button in the corner of each actionable item when you hover over it. This would pop up the context menu.

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It depends on the nature of your web app, and the true answer can only be bore out with proper user testing.

It should be fine if your app is an 'editor tool': If your app is a tool of some kind that has a 'canvas' or 'grid' like a document editor, spreadsheet, or drawing tool, then I suspect you'll find users will naturally expect the right click to work and be context-sensitive to your specific app's needs. That the browser menu drops down outside of the canvas area is fairly intuitive.

Well established existing precedents exist: E.g. most if not all of Google's online 'editor tools' (docs, spreadsheets, drawings etc) support right click.

PS labelling niggle: it's not a right click for left-handed users. Sadly, for the more sinister amongst us it is not a right click, but they are used to it being called this so I guess it's unavoidable really.

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I'm left-handed but there are some things I learned to do (like using a mouse, joystick, and guitar) with my right hand. Even when I use a mouse in my left hand, I still use the normal button configuration (index clicks secondary button, ring clicks primary). –  Mike Brown Feb 21 '11 at 6:38
    
I just found out that the correct term for it is 'Context Menu'? Ok, for my app, the context menu is only applied on the a calendar that resides in the main page. Imagine this image is the calander 4.bp.blogspot.com/_uzr-wsSLigk/TS-aFubUuZI/AAAAAAAAAMg/… . Do you think the user aware that each boxes can be right-clicked? –  dCrook Feb 21 '11 at 7:36
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Generally I would suggest you not use right click menus, because just like you said: users are not aware of this menu's existence.

Jakob's Law of the Web User Experience states that "users spend most of their time on other websites." This is the biggest reason for you to use another solution

On the other hand, if it's a corporate app or an app where users need to study the UI anyway, or if the UI is like Excel or any other Office apps, you may try using a unique right click menu because in this case users would expect your app to function like the offline ones.

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I like the comment "users spend most of their time on other websites" –  sushil bharwani Feb 21 '11 at 12:01
    
@sushil bharwani Thank you! :) unfortunately it is not my idea, but well put by Jakob Nielsen! –  Roland Pokornyik Feb 22 '11 at 7:41
    
i have seen a catalog manager for products where the only way to add anything was right click menu.. –  Parhs Sep 19 '11 at 1:51
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Context menus are an added benefit for advanced users - this is even the case on desktop applications (and even the OS itself). Even fairly experienced users of Windows tend to ignore context menus almost entirely, so I wouldn't worry too much about the fact that a web browser has a "standard" context menu that you would be overriding. If the current user understands context menus and knows how to use them, they will have no problem understanding that the context is now different, which is why they see different options (hence the name "context menu").

An important caveat is that you should never use context menus as the exclusive means to complete a task, but adding them provides your advanced users with an easier and quicker way to get things done.

There is absolutely no problem with using a context menu, and if it makes sense for your application (web or desktop) then go ahead and use it. The key thing is to make sure that every action in your context menu can be completed in another manner for those users that don't really "get" context menus (or for whatever reason don't use them).

Depending on the application, I would even go a step further and add keyboard shortcuts for certain commands as well. If you're getting to the point of setting up context menus, you are probably at the point where you are optimizing your interface, so keyboard shortcuts can only help with that more.

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"There is absolutely no problem with using a context menu"...well, they can over-ride the browser's own contextual menu, which could be an accessibility/usability issue for folks. In general, I prefer to not take away default browser behavior. That said, lots of sites are doing this now (Flickr comes to mind) so perhaps precedence trumps that issue. –  DA01 Feb 23 '11 at 1:07
    
@DA01 - what accessibility issue could there be? Those menu options are still available via the browser menus themselves. –  Charles Boyung Feb 23 '11 at 5:18
    
Taking a way default functionality of the browser can always introduce accessibility/usability issues that one should be aware of and test for (see also: keyboard commands) –  DA01 Feb 23 '11 at 14:08
    
This reminds me of the good old days, where a site would display a pop-up if you right-clicked. It would generally say something like "Don't take our images! Or do things that we don't agree with!". –  David Clarke May 7 '13 at 3:24
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There are many things in a browser's context menu that many people will not be able to find in the main menu. Most will never have had to access that menu before and all browsers except Safari hide the menu from their users. Don't underestimate the features in the default context menu. "Search with Google" and Apple's "lookup" dictionary feature are cornerstones of many people's daily interaction with their computer. –  Koen Lageveen May 7 '13 at 6:54
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