When the Tab Comes Due: Challenges in the Cost Structure of Browser Tab Usage
Tabs have become integral to browsing the Web yet have changed little since their introduction nearly 20 years ago. In contrast, the internet has gone through dramatic changes, with users increasingly moving from navigating to websites to exploring information across many sources to support online sensemaking. This paper investigates how tabs today are overloaded with a diverse set of functionalities and issues users face when managing them. We interviewed ten information workers asking about their tab management strategies and walk through each open tab on their work computers four times over two weeks. We uncovered competing pressures pushing for keeping tabs open (ranging from interaction to emotional costs) versus pushing for closing them (such as limited attention and resources). We then surveyed 103 participants to estimate the frequencies of these pressures at scale.
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