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Browser Tabs: Scientists Find New Way to Overcome Fear of Black Hole Effect

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Tabs have been in existence since 2001, but there hasn’t been a great deal of research on their effects.

A team of scientists from Carnegie Mellon University, pursuing the first in-depth research on tabs in a decade has found that many users simply feel exhausted by the page-saving tools.

Joseph Chee Chang, a postdoctoral fellow says that:

Browser tabs are sort of the most basic tools that you use on the internet.

Despite being so ubiquitous, we noticed that people were having all sorts of issues with them.

Chang and his team questioned internet users to see why people kept so many tabs open. They discovered that users often felt invested in the tabs they had open in their browser.

This made it hard for people to close tabs, even when they became ashamed or overwhelmed by them.

Users also resisted moving tabs out of a fear they would forget about them.

Roughly a quarter of people in one area of the study had kept so many tabs open their computers or browsers had crashed.

Black Hole effect

Aniket Kittur, a professor and lead research team, says:

People feared that as soon as something went out of sight, it was gone.

Fear of this black hole effect was so strong that it compelled people to keep tabs open even as the number became unmanageable.

According to them, tabs are too simplistic to capture the complex ways we think, perform tasks and interact with information online.

Tabs require a user to make decisions based on information from a number of sources, for example when choosing between a number of different products.

Managing this sort of task is really one of the most important aspects of productivity in our lives

And the number one tool that everyone uses for it is tabs, even though they don’t do a good job.

The researchers, who presented their findings at the Association for Computing Machinery’s Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, say they’ve designed a system to improve on traditional tabs.

Their Google Chrome browser extension Skeema groups tabs into tasks, and uses machine learning to suggest better groupings.

They said users who tested their tool found it decreased the number of tabs they used and helped them stay more focused online.

Many have since started using it in their daily lives.

According to Chang:

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.

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