Save Dialogs Considered Distracting

Only too often I’m happily typing away in some newly created document until I do what a decade of Windows usage programmed me to do (even though I have been using a Mac for about 7 years): save my document. Just in case.

Then this happens:

While I am still organizing my thoughts and just instinctively push Command-s, I am now distracted and have to make two decisions (like my life isn’t tough enough as it is):

  1. What to call my document. “Untitled” is likely not descriptive enough, so I have to come up with something better.
  2. In what directory do I want to store my document so that I will be able to find it again.

Both of which I really do not want to be bothered with at this point, I just want to be sure I don’t lose any data.

Surely we can do better than this. What would be a better paradigm?

Let’s look at two applications for inspiration. First: the iPhone’s Notes application. When creating and editing notes, changes are automatically saved:

Not only don’t I have to save, I also don’t (cannot) name my note. It just uses the first characters as identifier. All my notes just appear in a list:

Now, this may be nice for small collections of notes. It wouldn’t scale to a larger collections. Some sort of organization is required. One solution may be search, another may be tagging.

Consider Google Docs. It has a similar paradigm of a long list of documents in reverse chronological order. You can find your documents through search or through the use of tags. Tagging is completely optional, however. When saving a Google Document (which is automatic), you do not need to pick a name other than “Untitled” or pick a tag to file it under. By default it just ends up in your document stream. If you like, you can get organized later.

In my opinion this is a much better paradigm than a save file dialog:

  1. Save constantly;
  2. Derive an (initial) filename automatically;
  3. Simply create a stream of documents that can be organized and searched after the fact.

This allows the user to not be bothered with naming and organizing when all they want to do is ensure they don’t lose their data.