Home
I always appreciate progress bars that tell me my software is hard at work on my behalf. Any time I have to wait without a progress bar it makes me feel anxious. If I'm expected to be bored and unproductive for a minute or two, I want reassurances that something good is happening behind the scenes.

The other day I was wondering if there could be a better kind of progress bar than the usual ones I always see. Could the progress bar simultaneously assure you it is working, give you a time estimate for completion, and also entertain you in some minimal way?

Naturally my first thought went to Dilbert characters, properly licensed of course. Imagine a progress bar that involved Dogbert using a mallet to pound the Pointy-Haired Boss into the ground; the deeper he goes, the less time left to wait.

Or imagine Dilbert giving you a non-stop series of compliments corresponding to each level of completion, such as "You look nice today," and "I think you are smarter than your co-workers." The compliments would be shallow and random, but I'll bet it would hold your attention. The same model could be used with Dogbert as a fortune teller, giving you fake predictions that do nothing but make you feel good, e.g. "Today is your lucky day."

Or imagine a standard progress bar that goes from left to right, but a Dilbert character puts on a cowboy hat, straddles the bar like a horse, and kicks it jockey style any time it slows down. That would make me happy because I get angry at the progress bar when it stalls. I'd like to see it get kicked.

I would also happily read famous quotes or answer trivia questions streamed to me from some external source. It would add a tiny delay, but the payoff would be worth it. A minute of entertainment is better than 58 seconds of boredom even if you are in a hurry.

Perhaps a Dilbert comic could be the progress bar. It reveals itself from left to right as the job is being completed. The humor wouldn't work because the timing would be ruined, but it would hold your attention just to see how it ends.

Suppose you could choose your mood before any action that requires a progress bar, and the progress bar would be based on that choice. If you say you are in an angry mood, you might see Dogbert pummeling someone while you wait. If you are in a relaxed mood, maybe Ratbert suns himself and stretches, just looking cute and goofy.

Got any ideas for progress bars? (Yes, someone might steal your idea and make a fortune. But realistically, were you going to pursue it?)
 
Rank Up Rank Down Votes:  +18
  • Print
  • Share
  • Share:

Comments

Sort By:
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 30, 2008
I once had a consulting gig at a company that made Window-based industrial controls systems for such things as refineries. (Scary, yes.)

Some of the process took some time, so they hired summer interns from the local university to create cute cartoon-character animations of the process, as opposed to progress bars.

One animation took longer than the process.

Their solution: slow down the process.
 
 
Jul 24, 2008
When I am playing a video game and save the progress, sometimes they have action there all over the screen. Sometimes it's an animal running across the screen, somtimes it's a plant growing. It could cover the whole screen like a video game. After all, it doesn't matter what I'm looking at until a web page is fully loaded.

Of course it could do poorly on a computer with little memory.
 
 
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 24, 2008
Scott, you just found your next multi-million dollar idea! Heck, throw in a Nobel Peace Prize as well...I love it.

The only downside is the billions of dollars in lost productivity when employees worldwide begin to visit slow moving websites just for the progress bar entertainment....
 
 
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 23, 2008
Have I already seen this, or is it too obvious?
A simplified cartoon-version of Fatboy Slims video for Right Here, Right Now, where a single cell organism evolves to a bigger and bigger fish, jumps up on land, and continues to evolve through the species until it ends up as Wally sitting in his cubicle, drinking coffee and playing Windows Solitaire or something.
 
 
Jul 23, 2008
Back in 2000 I worked for a company that made file-sharing software for corporations. Their mascot was a kangaroo. So when the file wa transfering to the server the progress dialog presented a kangaroo with a file/folder hoping from one side of the screen to the the other. At a random interval the kangaroo would stop, look at the viewer, blink twice and then continue to hop away.

We also discussed the option if the file transfer died of having a wolferine coming into view and killing the kangaroo. This idea was dropped. Sadly the product was killed when we finished it.

I do agree that there is a value to entertain as well as inform while creating software. (I'm a professional software developer) However it is difficult to entertain because of the "insult" factor. Most any item that could be fun to one person will, pathetically, insult someone else. Often management will not allow such options.

Peace,
James Rose
New York City
 
 
Jul 23, 2008
One word. STRIPPERS.

Another word. With big tatas.
 
 
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 23, 2008
Someone else commentated on the issue that progress bars don't really show progress: there's reasons for that.

I used to run a software group. When it came to loading a large file we'd realize we needed a progress bar. But the process of loading the file was split into three separate operations being coded by three different programmers. So we had to ask the programmers "what percentage of the progress bar do you think you'll need?" And of course they were way off: so the bar would move steadily up to 30%, crawl to 75% and then be done in an instant.
 
 
Jul 23, 2008
Whenever I see a progress bar I spend $2G to buy a fast enough computer to make it go away.
 
 
Jul 23, 2008
I have no ideas about progress bars, but I would just like to say, today's comic is my life in a nutshell! Wow! BTW, I am also going to have surgery as well(laser eye surgery, not on my throat) , and I have noticed that the people who advance here at this place seem to be souless as well...are you having Catbert follow me around??!!
 
 
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 23, 2008
If you could develop something where Catbert destroys the relentlesly spinning Windows Vista ring I would be eternally grateful. My office recently upgraded me to Vista and I can't believe how quickly I have come to loathe that blue spinning circle of lost productivity. I actually yearn for the motionless hourglass of old.

It takes me about 10 seconds to go from my outlook email to my outlook calender and I think that little blue spinning ring which comes up for all ten of those seconds is hypnoitizing me for some evil purpose.

 
 
Jul 23, 2008
I press Alt-Tab whenever I see a progress bar.
 
 
Jul 23, 2008
SIMS 2 has one of those old memory games with the characters as the pictures. If you have forgotten about memory, you have to match a picture with the same one by flipping over cards and memorizing where the pictures are. SIMS 2 times every game forcing you to play the game for far too long. The problem is that the install takes a while and your brain is absolutely shot from concentrating on memorizing pictures so your patients for the game is severely limited. Normally I load the game for an hour, play the game for 30 minutes and uninstall it the next day. I blame the memory game.
 
 
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 23, 2008
!$%* bars. I will leave the rest to your imagination :)
 
 
Jul 22, 2008
G'Day Scott, I'd love to see an "Inconvenient Truth" progress bar that goes off the form :-)

 
 
Jul 22, 2008
I think your government needs a progress bar to show it's hard at work on your behalf. *chortle*
 
 
Jul 22, 2008
Some video games have been doing things like this. One game that I've played would let you play pong as it was loading. Being such a simple game, it doesn't really add much to the loading time at all. It was just black and white with rectangles and a square. Pong does gets boring after five minutes, but the game always loaded before then so it worked out.
 
 
Jul 22, 2008
Scott, this is why you make the big money.
 
 
Jul 22, 2008
@rfurber Luckily, my company's product is not a game.
 
 
Jul 22, 2008
If you plan on allowing people to play a game while something is loading, then someone already patented that:
http://www.patentstorm.us/patents/5718632.html
 
 
Jul 22, 2008
During setup of Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 (~40 minutes), you get to see billboards exclaiming how great they are. And you have to sit through them, since the default setup stops and demands some piece of info every 5-10 mintues. It gets really old if you do that a lot, though in that case there are ways to automate the process.
This is greatly improved in Windows Vista and Server 2008, where it asks everything in the beginning or at the end.

And I agree with bbarber3 - a progress bar should count the whole thing. Not lke Nero, which counts the disk-burning time down to the second, only to stall for another minute of "finalizing disk". I also don't trust a progress bar that merilly progresses with no relation to the actual task, though I'm guilty of having programmed one once myself. I'd rather trust a bar the gets hung for 2-3 seconds, meaning that the computer is working extra-hard for me now!
 
 
 
Get the new Dilbert app!
Old Dilbert Blog