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I'd like to add some keyboard shortcuts to my website. How severely is usability affected if I override the default browser behavior?

  • CTRL+B: bolds the text instead of open bookmarks.
  • CTRL+N: go to next step instead of opening new window.
  • CTRL+P: play the video instead of printing.
  • CTRL+R: refresh small portion of the page via AJAX instead of refresh the whole page
  • CTRL+S: save your email, not the HTML

Rarely used browser operations

My personal opinion is that it's okay to override rarely used browser operations. I've never used CTRL+N to open a new window. I always press CTRL+T to open a new tab. I'm not the average user, so I'm not sure if opening a new window is more common than I think.

Common browser operations

CTRL+B is a tricky one. I see Stackexchange overrides bookmark opening with text bolding. I commonly use CTRL+B to open my bookmarks, so sometimes I get confused for a few milliseconds when it fails. On the other hand, CTRL+B is so common in text editors, such as Microsoft Word, that regular users would expect it to bold text, and not open the bookmarks.

Unconventional actions

Have there been any studies on what are the best keyboard shortcuts for certain operations? I noticed that there are conventions that most software follows. CTRL+E, for example, focuses the search engine box on browsers and focuses the search box on Windows Explorer. Could someone provide the conventions for the following?

  • Play video: WMV uses CTRL+P, VLC uses spacebar.
  • Stop video: VLC uses S, I only know CTRL+P to pause in WMV.
  • Full screen video: WMV uses ALT+ENTER, VLC uses F.
  • Next step: I believe ALT puts an underscore under the "n", then hitting N executes.
  • Previous step: Probably the same as next, except with P.
  • Delete item from list: ???
  • Toggle a switch on or off: ???
  • Select next item in list: Tab? But overriding it would prevent user from tabbing around to various HTML elements.

VLC Media Player has horrible UI compared with WMV, so I'm guessing I shouldn't follow their lead. It's been developed by computer programmers. I doubt they ever hired designers.

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3 Answers 3

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It can be more of an accessibility issue. Normal thought is to not break default browser behavior if you can avoid it.

Since keyboard commands tend to be used by power users, I'd suggest making this an option that can be set for those that want them. Something along the lines of 'enable keyboard shortcuts'.

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+1 for the "enable keyboard shortcuts" idea. I think it would be a good idea if once the user enables shortcuts, a blurb comes up listing all the available shortcuts. –  JoJo Feb 25 '11 at 21:44
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It really depends on what you are doing - is this a web application or a general website? Is it something where users are going to be typing a lot (such as Stack Exchange or a forum)? Web applications are normally fine to use your own keyboard shortcuts because users have come to expect applications to have their own (and standard) keyboard shortcuts. There's nothing wrong with mimicking this trend for web apps.

It should also be fine to have keyboard shortcuts when the user is inside a text editor on your site - again, people have come to expect to be able to hit Ctrl+B to make text bold. It's also pretty rare that someone would be using the default browser keyboard shortcuts when they are inside a textbox. If I'm bookmarking a page, it's not when I'm typing out a response - it's before or after I've done that.

Also, you should think about the user base that uses the default keyboard shortcuts. Is it normal users or is it advanced users? My research has shown that it's almost exclusively "advanced" users that use keyboard shortcuts, at least in browsers. And even then, most of them are hardly ever used. I don't think I've used Ctrl+B to bookmark a page ever, because you can't control where things are saved that way. Because of this, I think the supposed accessibility concerns and usability concerns are even more minimized, since advanced users are pretty likely to understand the reason that you've overridden the default keyboard shortcuts - to benefit them even further.

This is pretty much the same question that we just had with context menus on websites - the reasoning behind overriding context menus and keyboard shortcuts is essentially the same. Check out that question here: Right-Click menu awareness on Web Application

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CTRL+B opens your bookmark's panel; it does not add a bookmark. CTRL+D adds the bookmark, at least in Firefox. Yes, this is a pretty heavy application, not a leisure website. And this particular application deals with some pretty advanced video transcoding, so I think the users will be advanced and expect some keyboard shortcuts. –  JoJo Feb 25 '11 at 23:00
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I'm not really sure it's a good idea. You probably intend the shortcuts for power users of your application. I believe power users know and use their browsers shortcut. They will be annoyed if using shortcuts they know do something causes unexpected behaviour.

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