If you are reading this, odds are you have several browser tabs open in which you mean to get to eventually.
Internet browser tabs are a major source of friction on the internet. People love them. People hate them. For many users, tabs bring order and efficiency to their internet browsing. For many others, they spiral out of control, shrinking on top of the screen as their numbers expand.
A research team at Carnegie Mellon University recently finished the first in-depth study of browser tabs in more than a decade. They discovered that lots of individuals struggle with tab overload, an underlying motive being that while browser tabs serve a variety of purposes, they frequently do so poorly.
“Browser tabs are sort of the most basic tools that you use on the internet,” said Joseph Chee Chang, a postdoctoral fellow in the School of Computer Science’s Human Computer Interaction Institute (HCII) and a member of the research team. “Despite being so ubiquitous, we noticed that people were having all sorts of issues with them.”
The staff will present their paper, “When the Tab stinks Due: Challenges in the Price Structure of Browser Tab Usage,” at the Association for Computing Machinery’s Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems.
For the analysis, the team conducted surveys and interviews with people about their browser tab use. The analysis details why individuals kept tabs available, including using them as reminders or fearing they’d have to look for the data again. It also looked at why individuals closed tabs, understanding that tab overload can breed a person’s focus and computer resources. About 25 percent of the participants in 1 aspect of the analysis reported that their computer or browser crashed because they had too many tabs open.
The investigators found that individuals felt invested in the tabs they’d open, which makes it hard for them to close the tabs even as they started to feel overwhelmed or embarrassed by how many they’d open.
Browser tabs first showed up in browsers in 2001 and have not changed much since. The internet, however, has. There’s about a billion times more information on the web today than there was 20 years ago. Today, one tab may house an email. Another might be used to get a music or video player. Articles stashed away to read later could be in different tabs, as could restaurant reviews or information for an upcoming trip. Add in social media sites, news or other webpages used for play or work, and it is easy to have a dozen or more tabs or windows open at any given time.
Tabs, it turns out, are not the best instrument for helping with complex work and life activities that people perform online. Their simple list arrangement makes it difficult for consumers to jump between sets of jobs throughout the day. And despite people using tabs within an external kind of memory, they do not catch the rich arrangement of the thoughts. Researchers found that although users complained about being overwhelmed by the number of tabs they queued up to work on later, they also didn’t wish to move them out of sight, as they worried about never return to them.
“People feared that as soon as something went out of sight, it was gone,” said Aniket Kittur, a professor in the HCII and head of the research team. “Fear of this black hole effect was so strong that it compelled people to keep tabs open even as the number became unmanageable.”
Tab overload also appears from sense-making and decision tasks that require a person to absorb data from many resources, sew it together and come to some conclusion. As an example, if someone is exploring what camera to buy, that person may search many distinct testimonials, how-to guides and purchasing websites to compare versions.
“Managing this sort of task is really one of the most important aspects of productivity in our lives,” Kittur said. “And the number one tool that everyone uses for it is tabs, even though they don’t do a good job.”
The group believes that today’s browsers don’t provide a good instrument for managing all of the info and tasks people visit the internet for. To fix this, they made Skeema, a extension for your Google Chrome browser which reimagines tabs as tasks.
The extension helps users set their tabs into jobs and then organize, prioritize and change between them. Skeema uses machine learning how to make suggestions for group open tabs into jobs and supports nested jobs and intricate decision-making.
Users of an early version of the tool significantly reduced the n”Our task-centric approach allowed users to manage their browser tabs more efficiently, enabling them to better switch between tasks, reduce tab clutter and create task structures that better reflected their mental models,” Chang said. “As our online tasks become increasingly complex, new interfaces and interactions that can merge tab management and task management in a browser will become increasingly important. After 20 years of little innovation, Skeema is a first step toward making tabs work better for users.”umber of tabs and windows that they kept open, reported much less strain connected to tabs, and remained more focused on the task at hand. Many of the early beta testers started using the tool every day to manage the tabs and jobs in their lives.
“Our task-centric approach allowed users to manage their browser tabs more efficiently, enabling them to better switch between tasks, reduce tab clutter and create task structures that better reflected their mental models,” Chang said. “As our online tasks become increasingly complex, new interfaces and interactions that can merge tab management and task management in a browser will become increasingly important. After 20 years of little innovation, Skeema is a first step toward making tabs work better for users.”