Dec 8

Marc Hedlund

Marc Hedlund

Tab bankruptcy

I'm no Larry Lessig, but I get a fair amount of email these days. Still, I'm not yet at the point, and hope never to be at the point, where I would ever declare email bankruptcy. I already get over 200 non-spam email messages a day, but if at some point I can't deal with that, I won't delete my inbox -- instead, I'll refactor my definition of spam.

I do have a much more serious problem with browser tab overload, however. I'm trying to follow a lot of topics right now, and that number declines only with great effort. I wind up pushing Firefox to its limits. Firefox is a huge help with this problem, though: it crashes a lot, and session restore fails a lot. Thanks, Mozilla! Man, otherwise, I'd be completely screwed.

So, for the record: Dear person whose feed sent me a surely fascinating but yet-unread blog post, I apologize, but I am declaring tab bankruptcy. I will do so every Saturday from now on. If I haven't gotten back to that tab by Saturday morning, I'm force-quitting Firefox and no, dammit, I won't try to restore my last session.

I very much like what Jeremy Zawodny wrote about this last February:

The hardest thing I have to do every day is to decide what to ignore.

Running a startup is a great way to learn how to, and how not to, ignore the right things. You should mostly ignore your competitors and mostly ignore the minor ups and downs that feel fantastic or terrible when they happen. You should pay a huge amount of attention to the unbiased people who are actually using your product or service -- not friends or enemies or professional commentators, but people who show up through a search, sign up and give it a try. Ignore everything that makes you miserable, pay tons of attention to everything that makes you happy and productive. Ask someone for help every day. And call your friends, you nincompoop.

If you're spending more time dealing with browser tabs than any of the above, don't wait for the browser to crash. Just quit. "You are about to close 67 tabs. Are you sure you want to continue?" Oh, yes, I'm sure.

tags: just fun  | comments: 28   | Sphere It

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Comments: 28

  Jerry [12.08.07 05:11 PM]

Interesting! A standard to evaluate the content of an email: informative .. important, critical.

  Doug [12.08.07 06:03 PM]

Two things I do: Hit the "bookmark all tabs" option once a day and slap a date on that folder (then keeping all those folders in a separate folder) and use an add-on to faviconize each tab I know will be up a while. Both those help me keep track of the slightly bigger picture.

  Marc Hedlund [12.08.07 06:06 PM]

Doug -- I used to do "bookmark all tabs" but found I never went back to them. I also think Firefox doesn't have a great way to manage bookmark folders, so clearing them out of those folders is tough.

  Jay Palat [12.08.07 06:32 PM]

When I get to a certain mass about 15 tabs I tend to span off a new window to work from. I think the worst enabler for me is Google Reader. It spawns off a ton of tabs from feeds that I'm interested in, that I need to transplant it to monitor the worth of the spawned tabs. After awhile if I'm not addressing the tabs much, I start sending them to It it is worthwhile, it gets tagged, if not just close the tab.

Not perfect but it helps. I've also started using the Enhanced History Manager. I feel better killing tabs when I know I can pull up the same site the next day easily.

  uv [12.08.07 08:52 PM]

I use - you have a bookmarklet to add stuff, but the good thing is they show up as thumbnails on category pages, where you can move them around or easily delete them.

Bottom line: it seems more important to *differentiate* between bookmarks and *delete* them, than actually *save* them.

  Silicon Valley [12.09.07 05:54 AM]

Another tactic is to simply copy and paste a site's URL - or a synopsis of an email into NOTEPAD or WORDPAD, then save to desktop for future browsing.

Type a divider line around the middle of the page to separate the tech and business from the entertainment topics.

  Jeffrey [12.09.07 09:45 AM]

After neatly creating over 50 folders for several hundred bookmarks, Firefox performed a neat trick and promptly deleted 2/3 of them, without asking me first!

  Leonard [12.09.07 09:51 AM]

I can't recommend enough TabMix Plus. The restore options are great, and way better than Firefox's.

  Sohail [12.09.07 10:04 AM]

I have an idea! Stop surfing the web when you're supposed to be working :-)

  John Dowdell [12.09.07 11:36 AM]

Same problem here. There are some good tips above:

o "Give up and let go" on a webpage if you haven't acted on it within a few reviews of that tab.

o Restart the browser regularly. Webpages can be demanding these days, so manage tabs with an eye to regular restarts.

o Bookmarking sessions. The History list doesn't distinguish pages in which you still have active interest; the Session management in some browsers doesn't let you retrieve one particular page from the session. (I bookmark pages rather than an entire window; the Firefox Bookmark Manager can search across selected folders.)

A few more:

o For the last year I've been using Safari and Firefox simultaneously on my Mac... if one beachballs, I've still got some windows open.

o I resisted using an ad-blocker, but finally gave in when I realized I was manually stopping ad-heavy pages anyway. Reducing the number of third-party references on websites has improved browser stability, in addition to speeding loads.

o A Comment Manager might help in tracking new comments to recent webpages. I haven't signed up for any myself, but people have found such services useful.


  Andy Wong [12.09.07 03:06 PM]

Web 2.0 emphasizes accessing/sharing data through different computing platforms, anytime, anywhere, online or off line. The connections and the data sharing are so seamless, collaboration and participation eventually has become natural.

Participation in turn improve content creation. Such cycle had changed our ways of working and living.

  Pas B [12.09.07 03:09 PM]

Firefox extensions:

Scrapbook: Save off any page or selection. Archive is searchable, and viewable off line.

Zotero: Supposed to be sort of similar, but stuffs things into a database instead of files. I haven't used it.

You may still find yourself "not getting back to things". But at least they are not haunting your user interface and pushing up your memory usage.

I guess I'll mention Slogger, too. It offers a variety of configurable logging options. It can be set to log the page URL upon button click, for example.


P.S. Your Comments interface is really sucking, these days.

  Ivan [12.09.07 04:37 PM]

For tab management, I've found Tab Kit ( to be extremely useful, as long as you're OK with a vertical tab bar. It has much better highlighting of unread tabs, and you can close all tabs above (left) or all tabs below (right).

  Matt Huebert [12.10.07 12:13 AM]

I use "Read it Later", a Firefox extension. Love it. Instead of opening new tabs, I click "Read it Later" and it's added to my list. Then I can click my "Read something from your reading list" when I want to move on from what I'm doing.

Now I rarely have more than 4-5 tabs open at once, and my bookmarks remain uncluttered.

It's sort of a purgatory for websites where they sit for awhile before I add them to delicious or forget about them for all time.

  Sachin [12.10.07 01:41 AM]

Reading all this makes me think that there should be a book coming out soon on the subject of Attention Management. O'Reilly's next best seller may be.

  Steve [12.10.07 01:53 AM]

@Sachin: I thought the same direction. In the new media worlds it's a big problem to select which information is important and which isn't. Nobody can read all information - it's hard to decide which ones are really needed!

  Michael H [12.10.07 04:42 AM]

If I'm just following a thread that'll only be active for a few days, I'll just bookmark it. When the thread has die down and I don't think I'll ever check it again, I just delete it. Otherwise I try to stick it in a folder or on the bookmarks toolbar.

I had a noob moment a few weeks ago when I found out I didn't have to go into "Organize Bookmarks" to delete the bookmarks, but that I could just right-click on the bookmark and "Delete" is an option in the context menu.

Also, I agree with Pas B, the Comments preview has been strange lately.

  Sachin [12.10.07 06:47 AM]

Marc's problem statement was that what you do with your bookmarks organization doesn't matter much. There is too much going on to go back to what you've saved for posterity.

In a tangential way Don Norman's book Emotional Design comes to mind - not for the subject of design but for one of the key topics he discussed in the book: how emotional and rational parts of the brain come together in decision making and the way positive and negative attitudes play a role in how the same set of information is dealt with.

Marc's later proposition is equivalent to a combination of the 'visceral' and 'behavioral' responses that Norman mentions in his book. A sort of satisficing strategy to make decisions, developing a set of rule of thumb to focus attention.

  Tim Walker [12.10.07 11:37 AM]

Good thoughts, Marc -- and this comment thread is also interesting. Personally I shy away from plugins and other technological fixes, because in my view my problem isn't addressable by technology; what I *really* have to address is the reality that my time is finite by the online material available for my consideration isn't. So I follow a very simple strategy: I count how many tabs are open, then pledge to cut a certain large fraction of them -- e.g. 80%. That helps me decide PDQ which ones are worth reading (blogging, forwarding to friends, etc.) and which ones get dumped. It gets easier with practice.

  Chris [12.10.07 12:11 PM]

I dropped Firefox for Flock and IMMEDIATELY saw less than 50% RAM consumption (and shocker, fewer crahes). That alone is reason enough to move.

  charles [12.10.07 03:36 PM]

try using opera. it can handle _MUCH_ more tabs before death...i regularly have 3 windows open with 10-25 tabs open each.

  shane [12.10.07 06:02 PM]

Another plug for opera.

I don't have major memory problems, and it doens't seem to crash that often, and when it does, it always manages to save the last session.

Also, instead of running tabs on the top, I've arranged my tabs to display in two columns vertically on the right side of the browser (something you can do in the standard version of opera, maybe you can do something similar in firefox).

This gives me 2 columns of about 35 tabs. (I regularly have about 50-70 tabs open in this layout)

This layout gives me enough realestate for actual page viewing and makes reading and finding the tabs easier.

  Marc Hedlund [12.10.07 06:02 PM]

Uh, charles, that's the opposite of what I want. :)

  Charlene [12.11.07 06:54 AM]

I use three browsers with tabs.

IE7 for various things that just look better in IE, and IE handles the sites better. I usually have about 9 IE browser windows open and each one is used for specific sites.

Firefox is used for sites I use daily because of the CoffeeCup extension. I typically only one browser window is usually open. I use more tabs on it and I reallly like being able to put my mouse cursor over the tab and scroll around the tabs. Although you can still get too many and the middle tabs can't be found. Although there is a button on the tab bar that lists the tabs.

I use SeaMonkey for my email so any links that get opened from email end up there. It is kind of interesting that the tabs get smaller and smaller the more you create, but eventually you do hit the limit. And then forget finding tabs beyond the limit.

I also have to use Safari for Windows to make sure my web applications work there. And I need it for my second Safari account. I use the tabs there too. I haven't figured out yet how to change the tab colors from Black on a Grey background.

  Reed Hedges [12.11.07 10:00 AM]

I use a Firefox plugin called Aging Tabs. It's very simple and doesn't add any extra chrome or controls to FF; what it does is changes the colors of tabs based on how long since they were opened. It makes it easy to find the tabs you were just on, and it also lets you see what tabs have just been hanging around forever unused. Simple and elegant.

I also use to save pages to (maybe) read later, rather than open tabs, by tagging them ":toread". That way tabs are reserved for things I really am going to read soon. Later on when I have time and am going through my RSS feed, I also review my pages tagged ":toread" and decide whether to actually read them or not. [The only gap in this loop is that I can't delete a bookmark from its RSS item. Oh well.]


  PR Online [01.05.08 03:04 PM]

Firefox is used for sites I use daily because of the CoffeeCup extension. I typically only one browser window is usually open. I use more tabs on it and I reallly like being able to put my mouse cursor over the tab and scroll around the tabs.

  SteveG [03.07.08 01:34 PM]

RSS Overload has become a big problem for us too. So we've resorted to graphing feed contents to see if a birds-eye-view would make a difference. Let us know what you think. Check out

  Jack Rowsey [06.17.08 09:28 AM]

Yeah, Firefox can be disastrous for our work.

During an important online transaction, my Firefox crashed that caused the transaction must be postponed the next day.

Sad but true, IE is a lot more stable, while Opera has the highest stability, it never crashed in my PC for years.

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