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Write your web applications to work with tabs

Brian Jono summarizes this little (in sample side) study of tab use:

The big thing I took away from Patrick’s presentation was that among heavy web users, tabs are enabling new styles of browsing behavior that rely less on bookmarking and less on the back button. According to Patrick, the back button is getting used less and less as the years go by, and for all but two of his test subjects, switching tabs was a more common action than hitting “back.”

Many of you, dear readers, are probably familiar with tabs in browsers. But, I find many people – both users and creators of web browsers – aren’t always up in tab use. Using tabs in simply a way to organize your web browsing and the web applications you have open. Instead of having many different windows open, you open up “sub-windows” (or tabs) in the browser window, as such:

"How do People Use Tabs?"

I use tabs to essentially queue up things to read. For example, I read around 100-150 tech news pieces a day. I don’t really read each one, I don’t even skim each one. I quickly scroll through headlines and open up, usually in a new tab, the 10-20 that I’m actually interested in. I do the same thing with blogs and other feeded sources I have.

Essentially, if I’m going through the funnel of research/browser – start with a long list of possibly relevant things, narrow down, scan/read, narrow down, scan/read, etc. – opening things in tabs is tidy way to build up a reading list for the next several minutes.

Tabs are also handy in places like instant message, such as Adium, where you might have 4-5 conversation going at once (usually not at once but on and off over the course of 10-15 minutes). Instead of having a separate window for each conversation, you get a tabbed list of them in one window:

Tabs in Adium

The take away for web application developers here is to be aware of this behavior and make sure your application is friendly to this kind of behavior.

Categories: Ideas.

Comment Feed

3 Responses

  1. Hi Michael,

    Good point! That's another way of using my findings that I hadn't thought of yet. Do you have any particular recommendations?

    One thing that a few people in my study mentioned is that they find it annoying when some links don't really work in a new tab. Most people said it's not something they encounter that frequently, but when they do, it's annoying.

    Web developers should make sure that opening a link in a new tab always does something reasonable. Facebook is a good example of an Ajax-heavy site that still works well if you open links in new tabs. Some other sites are not as well-behaved.

Continuing the Discussion

  1. […] about his research into how people use tabs has spawned a lot of interesting conversation and reflection about how people use […]