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Related Topics: FormattedSearch, InternetExplorerSidebar, OperaSidebar, PopupPageIndexForEditing, RichSiteSummary, SherlockAndMozillaSearching, WebSidebar

Sidebars in Mozilla and other browsers

The MozillaBrowser has a nice feature called sidebars (screenshot here), which is ideal for tracking recent changes on TWiki sites (through WebChanges). This is now enabled on TWiki.org, and easily added to any TWiki site.

UPDATE: Now includes a search field, 'diffs' on each topic and a 'list all topics' pop-up window (drag and drop topic names into the edit field, like PopupPageIndexForEditing). For non-Mozilla users, there's a screenshot of the TWiki sidebar here (200KB).

UPDATE 2: Now works quite well for IE5 and Opera users as well - see below for screenshots and setup.

UPDATE 3: To search TWiki from the Mozilla sidebar, see SherlockAndMozillaSearching.

UPDATE 4: True OperaSidebar now working.

Why does this matter?

One key issue for adoption of TWiki, at least in my company, is to remind people to visit the site. Many people are used to using email for knowledge sharing, where there is an automatic way to check for new content since everyone checks their email regularly. TWiki requires people to remember to visit the TWiki site, which is a habit that takes time to develop (see HowToGetInternalBuyInForTWiki).

Mozilla sidebars are one way to flag new content easily, with a visual reminder of the TWiki site sitting right there in the sidebar. The effect is a bit like a framed site, but more under the control of the user and not interfering with bookmarking - it's a matter of taste, but I find it quite convenient to have recent changes, plus a search field and topic popup, while editing or browsing in the right hand window.

Another powerful way to do this is to use a separate desktop-based RSS newsfeed reader to flag TWiki changes in a similar way - see WikiRssExtension for the RSS feeds. I'm currently using FeedReader, which is a Windows-based RSS reader that sits in the system tray and pops up a balloon to alert you of new or updated TWiki pages. FeedReader is very cool if you want to alert people within your company to new pages and increase TWiki usage - it can also provide them industry headlines from the huge range of RichSiteSummary (RSS) feeds available, which is an excuse to install FeedReader smile

Get sidebars now!

Sidebars make it much easier to track changes to TWiki if you're a Mozilla user. To add TWiki.org sidebars to your Mozilla or Netscape 6 browser, just click on these links:

Main:   Click here to add sidebar

TWiki:   Click here to add sidebar

Codev:   Click here to add sidebar

Plugins:   Click here to add sidebar

Support:   Click here to add sidebar

See Dave Jacoby's portal for a great range of techie-oriented RSS feeds and MozillaSidebars.

Get Explorer Bars in IE!

If you use Internet Explorer, you can get the same effect. See: InternetExplorerSidebar.

Get Sidebars in Opera!

If you use Opera, you can now get OperaSidebars in Opera 5.12 or higher.

How sidebars work in Mozilla

The user just clicks on a javascript: link to add the sidebar, see the examples above. Alternatively, if you don't like JavaScript, you can manually edit the panels.rdf file in your Mozilla profile directory - see below. The TWiki sidebar itself doesn't require JavaScript.

TWiki's neat FormattedSearch made it very easy to support this with no code changes - you can add this to your own TWiki site just by creating a few pages, and perhaps attract some avid Mozilla or Netscape 6 users. I've added a single page to Codev, Codev.WebSidebar, that uses this, then added suitable %INCLUDE%-based pages to some other TWiki.org webs. This is really for my own benefit, but perhaps others will find this useful and improve it.


The URLs above effectively edit the panels.rdf in your Mozilla profile.

JavaScript URLs are now possible as mentioned in TelnetURLSupport, but for now it's easy enough to use an A HREF link, which doesn't require TWiki config changes.

If you don't have Mozilla, try http://twiki.org/cgi-bin/view/Codev/WebSidebar?skin=plain and have a look at the HTML - it's very simple, no XML involved at all. The use of <div> is from the code by MeatBall:DaveJacoby that I borrowed from MeatBall:MozillaSidebar and is used to simplify CSS formatting.

I've now created the Codev.WebSidebar page and corresponding WebSidebar pages in other webs (using %INCLUDE% from the Codev page). These all use ?skin=plain, which provides a nicer looking sidebar when combined with an inline stylesheet. I named the WebSidebar pages by analogy to the WebRss pages in each web.

Related pages

WikiRssExtension defines a RichSiteSummary 'newsfeed' that can be used by more than just MozillaBrowser; the WebRss pages implement a similar scheme to MozillaSidebar and were the inspiration for it. I've heard rumours that the Mozilla sidebar accepts RSS, but I couldn't get this to work.

Things to do


Comments, questions

Any comments are most welcome... Are there any other Mozilla users out there? For people who use IE5 or Opera, is this sort of thing useful?

-- RichardDonkin - 07 Feb 2002

I'm using Mozilla but scripting switched off due to security issues (too many malicious scripts in the WWW).

My question: what's bad about frames? I would have thought that the browsers are able to bookmark frames properly now - to my untrained eye, this looks like storing frame layout and frame URLs instead of a single URL, which isn't exactly rocket science.

Are there any other issues about frames?

-- JoachimDurchholz - 19 Feb 2002

You don't need JavaScript to run this sidebar, as it is entirely HTML with the exception of some window popup code for the list of topics (and the list will pop-up without JavaScript in any case).

This is not dissimilar to frames in some ways - the big difference is that it is user controlled (anyone can write their own sidebar for TWiki.org, and even host it on another site, though that's not really necessary), and it doesn't mess up URLs and bookmarking. When using the sidebar, adding a bookmark or emailing the URL works exactly like a non-framed site (while it's possible to write framed sites that allow easy bookmarking, most site authors don't know how to do this, and browsers just bookmark the main frame).

The other big difference with sidebars is that they are always available whatever site you use - in just one click I can activate a specific sidebar, which means one click to get to a specific TWiki web (no matter what site I was using), and then I can immediately view topics, list topic names, search that web, or whatever.

Why not give it a try? It's easy to hide or delete the sidebar if you don't like it (just click the Tabs drop-down, then Customise and Remove).

-- RichardDonkin - 19 Feb 2002

But you need JavaScript to add the sidebars using the links above. Is there a way to add them without it?

-- DanielGlassey - 01 Mar 2002

You can just manually edit the panels.rdf file to include the appropriate URL - see the MeatBall:MozillaSidebar page for a full example - the extract from my panels.rdf file looks like this (see the Sidebar developer link elsewhere in this topic for more info):

  <RDF:Description about="urn:sidebar:3rdparty-panel:http://twiki.org/cgi-bin/view/Support/WebSidebar?skin=plain"
                   NC:title="TWiki Support"
                   NC:persist="false" />
  <RDF:Seq about="rdf:#$EOiaP2">
    <RDF:li resource="urn:sidebar:3rdparty-panel:http://twiki.org/cgi-bin/view/Support/WebSidebar?skin=plain"/>

Or you can just turn on JavaScript temporarily, click the URLs, and then turn it off again.

-- RichardDonkin - 01 Mar 2002

I just found this discussion and was very impressed/inspired. I've tried to extend this concept to IE in a less roundabout way.

I'm also working on a built-in sidebar for IE6 (and probably 5, but can't test it). It requires merging a small registry file that adds a branch with appropriate information for the explorer bar. I'll post more on this once I have something solid to present.

-- MikeMaurer - 14 Mar '02

Interesting tips on searching and TWeakUI - Mozilla has something similar for searching btw. I wasn't aware that sidebars were easily done in IE6, but I'll certainly test this under IE5.5 (IE6 breaks some intranet sites so I can't use it).

-- RichardDonkin - 14 Mar 2002

The similar search feature in Mozilla I assume you refer to is the option of searching using the default search engine at the bottom of the auto-fill drop-down in the location bar. Which is very useful, if you're referring to something else, I'd be interested in that too.

-- MikeMaurer -15 Mar '02

The Mozilla search feature is being able to type 'imdb foo' to do a search on imdb.com - see the last part of http://www.google.com/mozilla/google-search.html.

I copied your sidebar into Sidebar58A, changing the _main target to _content, and this seems to work a bit better (though I'm using IE5.5 which doesn't allow true sidebars - so perhaps it's IE6 that's causing this issue). The TWiki code never adds any 'target=foo' attributes to the code - only special pages such as WebSidebar do this - so it may be IE6 that's doing this.

-- RichardDonkin - 15 Mar 2002

Well don't I feel stupid...my web filter proxy (proximatron) was adding the _top tag for some reason, only for the diff links...turning it off made the issue go away. I've cleaned up and created an IE version of the sidebar, functionally identical to the mozilla version. Micro$oft specifies that links should use _main as opposed to Netscape/Mozilla's _content. This should be the only difference between the two, code-wise.

Thanks for the google pointer.

-- MikeMaurer - 15 Mar '02

Two more points (I've now created the InternetExplorerSidebar page and moved/edited where it seemed appropriate):

  1. How can we make sidebars (IE and Mozilla alike) refresh on their own gracefully? A meta refresh tag is an obvious (somewhat gross IMO) solution, but that could be annoying. The page reloads from the server when the bar is first displayed, but then just goes off the cached version, which may not be immediately clear to most people. For this reason, I would return to using a meta refresh that auto refreshes every 60 seconds or so (I don't know if the page is kept active upon closing the sidebar, which would ensure the page is always no less than 60 seconds old, or if the page would need to be visible for Mozilla or IE to re-get the page). The other concern with this solution would be that people with slow connections probably don't want a page refreshing often if they're not using it.
  2. An idea I had a few hours ago was to make a wiki-wide sidebar, utilizing the WEBLIST search feature, a drop-down box or something else could be created, so a person could pick which sidebar to use. This would make it unneccesary to have 3 or 4 or even more menu items be added to the Explorer Bar or Mozilla Tabs list. I think I'll begin looking at implementing this idea once the InternetExplorerSidebar page is made.


-- #2 Implemented and available from InternetExplorerSidebar (uses files to download, as the registry format is a little different, would require several more URL paramaters). Could make Mozilla/Netscape, but I'll leave that alone unless asked to make.

-- #1 I've added a meta refresh tag to the twiki.org-wide version. My expreience has been that once the bar is loaded, it will continue to refresh whether visible or not until that particular browser is closed. I personally think this is very useful, and on high-speed connections should not be a problem. I would be inclined to leave the tag there, since the majority of TWiki's users are on some sort of internal network, or have high-speed access via a college network or elsewhere. The page will only continue to refresh (at least in IE6) if the bar has already been loaded in that particular browser session. Another option is to make pages with and without refresh tags, or a box to type in number of seconds between updates, but this would complicate things somewhat. The only reason I am concerned about this is I know from experience that many people find meta refresh (myself included) very useful when used appropriately, others hate it even if it's being used for good reasons.

-- MikeMaurer 16 Mar '02

I will have to try the site-wide version once I'm back on IE 5.5. I was thinking about something like this for Mozilla, by letting people select a web from a drop-down list within the sidebar - even for Mozilla, it avoids sidebar proliferation.

As for the refresh tags, this should definitely be configurable (I suggest a site and web variable in TWikiPreferences and WebPreferences). There is quite a heavy impact on the server from having a lot of users running the sidebar refresh every 60 seconds - see InstantNotification for some discussion of this, and see WebStatistics where WebSidebar and WebRss are already near the top of the stats with only a few users. In the longer term, would be good to do some BrowserAndProxyCacheControl so that the refresh can be cached (for exactly the same period as the refresh interval) by proxy caches (also mentioned in InstantNotification).

-- RichardDonkin - 17 Mar 2002

I read the various discussions, I'm not up on meta tags and how they work, I just know how a select few of them work. As for the WebSidebarIEAll, I've changed the refresh to 5 minutes, which I would think is a good compromise in the mean-time. I know I generally check WebChanges every 5-10 minutes manually of a twiki site if I'm actively browsing it, and the sidebar is significantly smaller in size than a full-blown WebChanges page. I definately agree that this isn't a good long-term solution, but for now, I think it is a good compromise. The issue with user selectable refresh rates is that you could have some crazy person enter 5 or 10 seconds, and just hammer the server. A drop-down box might be more appropriate, it wouldn't be perfect (as urlparam's can be used to circumvent "security", I do it myself to make my own forms...but that's a secret wink ) but would prevent an average user from picking a number lower than the admin or community wants. I also updated the all-web sidebar to re-direct to the correct about section. Off to implement it on my software design wiki -- MikeMaurer - 17 Mar '02

I've commented on MozillaBug:60245 (tooltips not shown in sidebars), since tooltips are so useful in InternetExplorerSidebar and should really work in Mozilla. Probably a post-1.0 Mozilla feature, but it would help if any sidebar users vote for this bug!

-- RichardDonkin - 21 Mar 2002

Please consider adding a "Search titles" option. I find myself frequently looking for a topic that IjuStCanTReMemberHowtoSpelL. Thanks.

-- MattWilkie - 13 May 2002

Not a bad idea, but I don't really have time to do this, so feel free to add this yourself smile

  • would if I could smile

You can just click the Topics link and do Ctrl/F to search within the popup window listing topic names, of course, which has the advantage that you don't lose the state of the main page.

  • yes but this means you have to request the server to send you the names of all the pages first.
  • which leads to request number 2: have search results open in a new tabbed window.

-- RichardDonkin - 13 May 2002
-- MattWilkie - 14 May 2002

I was about to ask that the sidebar add 'last edited by [user]' to the title attribute of each link, thought to look at the page source and discovered it was already like that. So now my question is: how to I get Mozilla to display it? If I load WebSidebar on the main browser window the titles are displayed as tooltips, but not when in the sidebar.

Given that this bug is over a year old (MozillaBug:60245). Is it possible to change the MozillaSidebar so that it displays the title attribute inline? (well, I know it's possible, but will somebody do it?)


-- MattWilkie - 23 Apr 2003

Fixing that mozilla bug is the real solution of course, so please head over to MozillaBug:60245 and vote for it, and perhaps add a comment that you can reproduce it in latest Mozilla versions. As for fixing the TWiki implementation of MozillaSidebar, this is quite easy as it's just a matter of HTML tweaks - should be easy enough even for someone who is not an HTML expert (I just did the sidebar by copying and tweaking). The main issue is finding a way of displaying the info outside a tooltip without using a lot of space.

There's also a patch for Mozilla on the bug page, see its attachments - since this involves fixing only a XUL text file it would be quite easy to fix this, and testing this patch may help getting it applied to the Mozilla codebase.

-- RichardDonkin - 27 Apr 2003

The last comment on MozillaBug:60245 (which stops tooltips working in this sidebar) was asking for someone to confirm this in a recent Mozilla build. I don't use Mozilla at present, but if someone could test this and comment on that page, it would help get this fixed.

-- RichardDonkin - 27 May 2003

Correction: a previous comment, #39, was saying that tooltips were not showing up in the main browser viewport for Moz 1.2.1. Comment #41 is asking for confirmation.

-- MattWilkie - 27 May 2003

MozillaBug:60245 is finally fixed, so if you are using a bleeding edge Mozilla nightly build, or can wait a bit for a release, MozillaSidebars should be a lot nicer to use (i.e. you can see tooltips for each link).

BTW, I think the various sidebars and other BrowserExtensions should be included in CairoRelease - what do other people think?

-- RichardDonkin - 11 Sep 2003

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