multiple browser tabs infographic

Stressed Out by Your 87 Open Browser Tabs? New Science Offers a Fix

As of this writing, I have 32 open browser tabs across three windows. And that’s actually a light day for me. As a professional whose work involves a ton of information gathering, I often have dozens upon dozens of tabs open at any given time, sometimes leaving them there on the top of my browser for weeks or even months at a time.

My laptop, predictably, doesn’t appreciate this and not too infrequently freezes or crashes. And, if I’m honest, I’m often stressed out by all my tabs too — I waste time pondering which to close, worry about losing information in the chaos, and feel a little panicky when I see my tabs lined up there demanding my attention at the top of my screen.

If this all sounds familiar, then I have good news for you, my fellow tab abuser. We are apparently very much not alone in our problem. New research out of Carnegie Mellon University confirms that huge numbers of Americans have lost control of our tabs and, even better, offers a potential fix.

You’re not the only one embarrassed by your out-of-control tabs.

For the study, titled “When the Tab Comes Due: Challenges in the Cost Structure of Browser Tab Usage” and presented at last week’s Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, a team of computer scientists surveyed users about their tab usage. They found that 25 percent of participants reported that their browsers or computers were crashing because they have too many tabs open.

Many participants also admitted to feeling stressed out or ashamed because of their out-of-control tab count but still feeling unable to just close them.

“People feared that as soon as something went out of sight, it was gone,” explained Aniket “Niki” Kittur, the head of the research team. “Fear of this blackhole effect was so strong that it compelled people to keep tabs open even as the number became unmanageable.”
If you’re interested in a deep dive into the design and psychology of tabs that explains Americans’ love-hate relationship with the ubiquitous browser feature, then this article from Inc.’s sister site, Fast Company, is for you. But if you simply want something to sort out your tab issues once and for all, then all you need to know is that the researchers didn’t just document the problem; they are also developing a possible solution.

A fix for your tab addiction?

The fix is a Chrome extension called Skeema, which allows you to translate your 87 open tabs into a list of “tasks,” which you can then organize and prioritize to your heart’s content. At the moment, it’s waitlist only, but you can sign on to be notified when it goes live here.
Many testers seem to like it. “Kittur says that in early testing with a dozen users, 75 percent chose to keep using Skeema daily two months later,” Fast Company’s Mark Wilson reports. When Wilson gave it a try himself, though, he found it “completely overwhelming” and felt the UI was “quite a heavy lift to get used to.” The tool is still in development and should become more streamlined, the researchers note.
Let’s hope so. Because whether or not Skeema ends up being the tool that finally breaks our tab addiction, it’s clear there are tons of people out there like me who really need a better alternative than continuously stressing about dozens of open tabs.

The original version of this article was originally published on Inc. by Jessica Stillman.

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