52

Do any significant number of users Ctrl + f windows or + f macOS to activate browsers' text search?

I'm trying to find some usage numbers, but I can't find anything.

Background

I'm working on a page that has "hijacked" scroll events, which interferes with all native browser features that rely on scroll. This includes keyboard navigation, scrolling to anchors and page text search (and thus needs to be re-implemented, else have support dropped).

Note: As some astute commenters guessed, I am not advocating this technique. I merely encountered it, felt it a poor risk/reward (for the same reasons mentioned below) and was seeking to help quantify the downsides.

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    What are you replacing this functionality with? Most people don't use CTRL + F, but those of us who do expect it to find words on the page. – maxathousand Apr 20 '18 at 13:59
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    If you're pushing back against this, consider the effect on users with a disability, who may be protected (if not in law, by best practice). – Chris H Apr 20 '18 at 15:26
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    The page you're working on sounds like it'll have a million other problems, too. Have you tried it with a screen-reader? Without CSS? With scripts disabled? At very high zoom/very low resolution? The simpler your webpage, the more likely you are to automatically support all of that, with no effort from you. – Nic Hartley Apr 20 '18 at 17:26
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    Native behavior is the best UX - don't break your users expectations. I remember the 2000's when every Flash entry page had it's own implementation of scrolling/scroll bars. it was awful. – Aaron McMillin Apr 20 '18 at 18:11
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    Note that some browsers also support typeahead, which starts a search as soon as something is typed on the keyboard, without having to press ctrl+f. I've had this enabled since Firefox 1, fifteen years ago. I seem to remember at least one popular website (github?) that interfered with that. Don't be that website which people remember for breaking native events. – isanae Apr 20 '18 at 18:55
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Found an article sourcing a study conducted by Google in 2011 in the US. Apparently, 90% of the participants didn't know about it.

"90 percent of the US Internet population does not know that. This is on a sample size of thousands," Russell said. "I do these field studies and I can't tell you how many hours I've sat in somebody's house as they've read through a long document trying to find the result they're looking for. At the end I'll say to them, 'Let me show one little trick here,' and very often people will say, 'I can't believe I've been wasting my life!'"

Source: https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2011/08/crazy-90-percent-of-people-dont-know-how-to-use-ctrl-f/243840/

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    I think it is kinda important to point out that this is about US users only. I'm not saying there are gonna be huge differences, but some cultural differences probably do exist. – Big_Chair Apr 20 '18 at 12:46
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    Absolutely, and it's also important to point out that their sample could have been non tech savvy people. I can't tell for sure because I couldn't find the actual study now. – RobbyReindeer Apr 20 '18 at 12:57
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    And keep in mind that the article is from 2011; the Google survey may be a bit older yet. It's absolutely possible that the numbers don't reflect today's usage anymore. – Schmuddi Apr 20 '18 at 15:17
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    It does not matter how big the sample is or how reliable the study is, we all know that what he did is wrong and thus he should not be encouraged, your answer is encouraging him, If I were you I would delete the answer. God knows how many people will follow his steps after reading that – Lynob Apr 20 '18 at 18:01
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    @Lynob (1) The question is about usage stats, not about whether it is a good idea to break functionality. The OP's motivations for asking the question aren't relevant (2) The answer does not in any way state "not to worry" or give any kind of recommendation. It merely states the stats. (3) The article was written in 2011 so I'm not sure where you're getting that it is useless because it was done "so long ago". I think your concerns are valid insofar as they relate to the OP, but they are addressed in the comments there and do not invalidate this answer. – JBentley Apr 20 '18 at 21:00
98

To answer the question you asked:

Keyboard shortcuts tend to be used by only a small subset of people ("power users"). This is a pretty set-in-stone shortcut—if an application responds to CTRL + F, it will (almost) always trigger a "find" feature. Replacing a browser's find-in-page function with anything other than a custom find-in-page function would be unexpected.

Additionally, you'd only be interrupting your tech-savvy users (the ones who'd be inclined to use such a shortcut in the first place) while not providing any benefit to those who don't use keyboard shortcuts.

To answer the question you didn't ask:

Maybe I'm biased as a software engineer, but I cringed when I read "hijacked events".

Hijacking common shortcuts automatically means that things aren't going to do what users expect them to do. It's basically saying to your tech-savvy users "I know what you wanted to do, buuuuut...."

I'd caution you to only proceed with this if you're sure that what you're doing with these interactions is worth forcefully redirecting your users to your own features.

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    @KenMohnkern As someone that is probably considered a power user - I drag the scrollbar around a lot. At times I also use middle-click and moving my mouse around. Everything has their use cases. – Sumurai8 Apr 20 '18 at 17:47
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    Replacing the browser's find function at all is unexpected and obnoxious. – TKK Apr 20 '18 at 20:20
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    @TKK - it works perfectly fine for google docs. – Davor Apr 20 '18 at 20:39
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    @Ooker I think that’s a decision that would require a lot more context, understanding of user goals, and user testing to be able to answer. To contrive an example, perhaps an online newspaper archive captures the CTRL + F shortcut which still finds results in the page, but also provides an option to include results from images on the page using automatic character recognition. Seems like a potentially worthy reason to intercept the shortcut. – maxathousand Apr 21 '18 at 2:28
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    The OP doesn't seem to be hijacking the keyboard shortcut, he's hijacking scrolling. So it will affect the Find feature whether they do it from the menu or a shortcut, and I think he's asking about them all. – Barmar Apr 21 '18 at 11:53
18

I think you asked the wrong question. It's not just the number of users that matter: you should consider the types of users you exclude too.

I literally used Ctrl+F to follow the link to this page. I'm a keyboard user with a slight difficulty in using the mouse. When I'm not already using the mouse for other reasons, when I want to follow a link in a browser in which I don't have any special extensions installed, I'll often press Ctrl+F, type enough of the text of the link to find it, press Escape to close the text search, then press Enter to follow the link.

It's not just the power users mentioned in another answer that you might think you're excluding. For the typical power user, the inability to use Ctrl+F is an inconvenience, nothing more than that. For people with more severe difficulties in using the mouse, attempts to hijack Ctrl+F may render your page completely unusable.

Only you can decide whether such people need to be able to use your site at all.

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    I really liked your way of using Ctrl+F to follow links. – RogUE Apr 21 '18 at 13:54
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    This is not answering the question of how many people actually use this feature. There has been a note added to the question where they're not advocating these features and in fact are trying to quantify the downside of a page that does hijack these features, and hence need the numbers. – doppelgreener Apr 21 '18 at 14:15
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    @doppelgreener They still need more than just numbers on how many people use this feature. They need to divide it at least in how many people use this feature but can live without it, and how many people use this feature and cannot live without it. Without that division, the numbers won't provide enough relevant information. – hvd Apr 21 '18 at 16:24
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    You might find Vimperator, Saka Key or similar browser addons useful. – Ruslan Apr 22 '18 at 7:29
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    @Ruslan I'm aware of them, thanks. Vimperator doesn't work on current versions of FF, so is not an option for me. Saka Key I do use, but it's sluggish on pages with a lot of links (SO!) and its injected HTML sometimes breaks sites. I do occasionally check if a new extension has been released that would work for me. – hvd Apr 22 '18 at 20:01
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Adjunct: Those that do usually do because a (google or other) search for an exact term brought them to that page, and they want to jump straight to where the search phrase appears - either because

  • they need the exact context of that search term (eg if the page is a table of part numbers or a dictionary)

or

  • they have not yet established whether this search result, among other results, is worth further consideration - either because:

    • they suspect that their search engine gave them a blind result. Google is very hard to keep from doing that these days - even "verbatim search" can give you useless results containing a variation of the search phrase

    • they fully expect search engine manipulation to happen regarding their query (eg cloaked pages)

    • their search phrase has a high rate of false positives, because it is commonly used as a forum signature, "boilerplate" text, part of sponsored content...


The kind of navigation you are implementing is also very annoying to users that actually want to eventually read ALL or A LOT of your existing content, since it makes it even harder to establish and keep a reading position.

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