The revolution will be verbosely {,b}logged

Subtle Refinements to Papertrail's Event Viewer

Posted by @rpheath on

We’re pleased to release several improvements to Papertrail’s event viewer. Based on our own experience and how we’ve seen customers use Papertrail, these changes make the viewer easier for new users to incrementally explore, then more predictable once you have.

One place to choose what to see

There are three ways to control which logs the viewer shows: groups (of log senders/systems), search queries, and time.

Until now, one of these options was buried in the upper left corner, hundreds of pixels away from the other two:

Old Group Filter

The idea was that the dropdown list of groups in the upper left corner would frame my view, in the same way that the title of a page might. The problem: the group of log senders is used alongside the search query and the time, which are both at the bottom of the screen. Also, so many sites use the upper left corner for site-wide navigation or decoration that Papertrail’s group dropdown was easy to miss.

Realizing this, we moved all three scope-constraining options to one place. We hope this saves mouse mileage.


  • the existing icon to access/change saved searches will glow blue when an existing saved search is being used
  • edit any group or saved search right from the viewer:

Edit group from viewer

Quickly update existing saved searches

Previously, to overwrite a saved search, one needed to navigate to the saved search’s settings page and change the query in a form field. Usually I want to refine a saved search because I’m viewing the resulting logs, though. It’s almost never a task of its own.

To avoid the back-and-forth, it’s now possible to update searches from the event viewer. After searching for a query which isn’t currently saved, clicking “Save Search” now shows two options:

Replace Existing Search

This new “Replace an existing search” option makes it easy for search queries to evolve and improve as I explore my logs, so saved searches always reflect the team’s current knowledge.

Offer control of high-volume streams

When “tailing” a live stream, sometimes the stream will include more new log messages than would be sane to present at once. I’m not great at evaluating 250 events per second, let alone 2,500 or 25,000, and having them unceremoniously dumped on my screen wouldn’t help me debug a problem.

This is only relevant for high volume live tail streams, so Papertrail showed a subset of the new logs on the live stream and made all logs available for non-live views.

However, this had two gaps: I want an indication that I’m viewing a subset of live logs, and I’d like more control of what to do next – sometimes I spot a problem and do want to see more.

Now, when events are omitted from a high-volume live stream, Papertrail says so. Also, I can click to load omitted events:

Load Omitted Events

Moved Contrast setting to Profile

Papertrail’s viewer supports a dark and a light background. Previously, this was a button in the viewer. We’ve learned that contrast is more of a personal preference: once set, very few people want to change it casually, nor do we. It wasn’t a good use of space or cognitive load in the viewer. It’s now in Profile:

Profile Contrast Setting

What do you think?

Our design goals are gradual, effortless discoverability the first time something is needed, then minimum cognitive load on every future use. A recent 99% Invisible video about The Norman Door explains this incredibly well. Tiny decisions matter. In some cases, we’ve been testing these changes on ourselves and refining them for 2 months.

Take the updated viewer for a spin and send us your opinions and requests. Enjoy!