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?)
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Jul 22, 2008

This is really good. I'm a software engineer, lately responsible for building the Windows client installer for our product, and I've been thinking about how to enhance the inevitable wait while files are copied and the application is configured.

I promise I won't use any Dilbert characters, but I think I might try to add a game or perhaps some pithy quotes.
Jul 22, 2008
You just don't miss any opportunity to pimp those characters, do you? I am impressed by the range of your imagination wherever $$ might be made or boredom might be relieved.
Jul 22, 2008
What I hate is the progress bar that is obviously NOT linked to the actual progress of the task you are waiting for or is linked to only one of many tasks to be completed. You are watching the progress bar as it crawls near the end, thinking 'It's almost done', then it reaches the end only to start over. ARRGH!

This seems to be the new trend for software installs. A progress bar should map to the progress of all tasks the user is waiting for (not just a sub task).
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Jul 22, 2008
Take a cue from the late 1980's.

There were some great loading games on some of the later cassette based games on the Commodore 64, including a really rather good version of Space Invaders. Somehow it was better than any other identical space invaders clone.
Jul 22, 2008
We've been doing this for years in games. We'll just throw up single line tips about playing the game, or backstory on the world. They rotate through at random so that you generally have the chance of getting something you haven't seen before.
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Jul 22, 2008
Neat idea.

Also, if someone should create a progress bar that would air some extremely annoying music.

I promise - that ass^%$e, sitting next to me at the office would pay loads of money to add it to his chewing sounds and elevated mobile phone thrum.
Jul 22, 2008
This function needs to be built into the operating system to avoid adding download time. (There would still be a slight processor penalty). You could use 3rd party programs (just like screen savers - which could be games or whatever animation someone can think of) chosen by the user, or you could default to the standard bar (or even no bar at all).

cc: Microsoft; Apple; Linux
Jul 22, 2008
Strip tease, obviously.
Jul 22, 2008
It's entirely true that users find an animated progress bar much more reassuring than a non-animated one. That said, once you have an animated bar, it absolutely can't stop mid-progress.

I work at a software company, and one of our products uses a horizontal spinning "barber pole" during longer load times. One of the development priorities was not making sure that the damned pole keeps spinning, no matter what, and if the load hits a momentary snag/stall, the pole stops spinning for a moment too. I have received literally dozens of support calls that went like this:
User: "The pole stopped spinning!"
Me: "Okay... just wait for it a minute."
User: "...oh. There is goes again."
Me: "You have a nice day, too."

It's as though the momentary animation stall signals the imminent crash of the program, the computer, and ultimately civilization. Let Dilbert ride the progress bar like a jockey, but make sure he never *stops* kicking the bar.
Jul 22, 2008
I recall in one of your strips you had a character falling from the [broken] window of a tall building (as if pushed or having been stressed beyond his limit). That'd be really cool, - the closer the character gets to the inevitable "kersplatt" the sooner your app will start. You could have user preferences (for the progress bar applet) to allow users to customize the progress bar - what character, type of fall (simple fall, fancy dive, etc.) and whether (or not) you view the actual kersplatt before the app opens.
Jul 22, 2008
What we really need is more advertising. "While your program is running, take advantage of these great offers. You will automatically be notified when the procedure is complete."
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Jul 22, 2008
Scott wrote: "(Yes, someone might steal your idea and make a fortune. But realistically, were you going to pursue it?)"

I miss The Lazy Entrepreneur: All Talk, No Funding. Any chance of bringing it back?
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Jul 22, 2008
Hi Scott,

How about something other than bars? I would like a progress spiral. Or perhaps progress line drawings. Problem is unless you know what is being drawn, it would be hard to determine progress, although amusing to watch.

For a progress bar, how about a fishing scene with someone fighting a big fish up to a boat, complete with jumping and negative progress if necessary. The fish could even be released at the end.

Jul 22, 2008
They have progress bars like that on the Nintendo wii, mario is running and there are 3 blocks in the air and he hits one at 33%, 66% and when your done he hits one several times. I also believe many games on xbox have interactive progress bars.
Jul 22, 2008
I've got a great idea. How about a progress bar that shows how much time we'll have to wait before the Dilbert website loads. It could maybe be a circle with two pointers - one showing the minutes the other the hours - with numbers around the outside - twelve should be enough.
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