Entering the Lightning Lab accelerator has been a transformative experience for Twingl. There’s nothing like pitching week-in, week-out, to force you to pull your head out of the clouds. You need to think about what the smallest thing is that people want or need.
The trouble with having a big vision is that it’s damned hard to know where to start. It’s like a game of Battleship.
Over the past year, we flirted with web annotation, automated digests, reading and writing tools. We threw away weeks, toying with tools for knowledge sharing and collaborative learning. None of it felt right, and frankly we were beginning to feel like we’d made a mistake entering the accelerator.
One day, we looked up. We shifted our eyes from our own screens—to the screens of others.
That’s when we saw the tabs. Thousands of them.
The lab is an environment where you have to learn, and you have to learn fast. What do you do when you want to learn about something? You hit Google and you start clicking.
Over the last couple of weeks, we sent out a survey—and got hundreds of responses. And now, as a thank you to all who responded we’d like to share with you what we learned.
How do tabs build up?
You’ve got a hundred tabs open. How did this happen? What am I doing with my life?
- You’re trying to learn about something (often for a project) and fell down a Google Rabbit Hole. No surprises that most people’s tabs spring out of searches on Google, Wikipedia, or wiki-like sites. Hyperlinks are exciting! These “trails” build up fast: when you’re not sure what you’re looking for, everything might be useful.
- Something interesting came to you through “The Stream”. You open a link from an email newsletter; you browse through Twitter or Facebook; something interesting pops up on HackerNews. Looks interesting, but you’re feeling guilty about skiving off work. You tell yourself you’ll get to it later.
- You’ve got a problem, and you’re trying to solve it: A common problem for programmers. Find a weird bug, hit Google, open tabs, fix the bug; repeat. I like to call these “Entropy Tabs.”
- You’re working on something, on the internet! You might have a few documents open in Google Drive, alongside your team chat software and one or two customer leads to follow up.
Why do tabs stick around?
We’re usually pretty good at cleaning up some types of tabs. Cruft which builds up after some Facebook procrastination. The tabs which popped up during a coding bender. But some tabs linger, rot, and fester. Here were the most common reasons.
- “They are our todos.” This is the fundamental reason your tabs linger. You’re not in the right headspace to deal with this thing right now, but it’s important enough that you want to keep it in sight. These might be things you’re meaning:
- to read
- to buy
- to learn
- to share
- to reply to
- to research further
- They are our “Dashboards.” Things like Gmail, or your project management software. They stick around for an obvious reason: you’re always using them.
- “Current lines of inquiry” for research projects that you can’t complete in a single sitting. Maybe you’re learning your way around a topic for an article or essay you’re writing. It’s the digital equivalent of leaving a stack of notes and papers on your desk—so you can pick up where you left off.
How do we use tabs right now?
A couple of interesting behavioural trends came up:
- It’s common to sort your tabs out into windows based on project, context (ie, type of task), or some variation of the two. We are trying to stay organised!
- We don’t trust bookmarks. This makes sense if you think of your tabs as a todo list. If there is a bill on your desk that you’re meaning to dispute, you will leave the bill on your desk. You won’t put it in the bottom drawer—where you know you will forget about it. Bookmarks are the “crap drawer” of our web browsers.
If there’s anything you’ve told us, it’s that our lives are shifting further into our web browsers every day. We use them for work and for play. We use them to create, to consume, and to learn.
How can the browser become more productive? That’s the subject of Matt’s next blog post—coming tomorrow.