I'm drowning in tabs. Where's my email account? Help!

Thoughts Nov 30, 2020

How many tabs do you have open right now? If you're like most people, you've probably just counted more than 25. And no matter how hard we try to limit tabs, they just keep multiplying. Sure, there are dozens of articles out there about how to bookmark and reduce tabs, but does that really help? As more and more services go to the web, the sea of tabs seems to get bigger and bigger.

And your email is lost in it.

But what if the problem wasn't your tab organization system (or lack of it)? What if the tab system itself was just outdated? Really outdated.

Tab-only browsers are antiquated

The first tabbed browser was published over 22 years ago in 1998. Since then, every major browser has adopted the tab structure at some point in time. Opera got tabs in 2000. Mozilla Firefox (then Phoenix 0.1) followed suit in 2001. Apple’s Safari featured tabs in 2003. And Google Chrome and Microsoft Edge were created with tabs in 2008 and 2015, respectively.

As the tab interface evolved, browsers started to realize that they had to be organized in some way. So they added a few features to manage them - like the ability to move tabs around, drag them to a new window, and save them as bookmarks. Firefox puts bookmarks in a side panel and Chrome just rolled out a new feature to group tabs together. But none of this has helped to diminish them. That's because browsers ignore the real problem with tabs - they’re only good for browsing, not working.

Browsers ignore the real problem with tabs - they’re only good for browsing, not working.

All websites are not created equal

Think about it. How often are you in your Slack, Google Drive, or Notion? All the time, right? But what about that tech review that you just read on Cnet? You've got what you’ve needed it and now you're done. Yet these sites are treated the same in the browser - they're all tabs at the top of the page. And your most used (and important) sites are getting lost within all those research tabs. Like your email account.

Bookmarks don’t help that much either. That’s because they can organize web pages, but they can’t reduce tabs. In fact, when a bookmark is clicked on, it just makes another tab. But what if there was another way to interact with our most-used sites other than tabs. Well, there is, and you use them every day. They’re called apps.

Bookmarks can organize web pages, but they can’t reduce tabs.

Apps could clear up the tab mess

We’re already pretty familiar with apps because they’re on our phones and desktops. They can be moved around, show notifications, and display a specific web platform without a tab. For our most-used web applications, apps enable us to work with better organization and efficiency. So the question begs to be asked, why aren’t they in our browser?

The big browsers out there—Chrome, Firefox, Edge, and Safari—were designed for browsing, not working. And they’ll only make small incremental changes to their browsers because browsing is what works for them. Even creating a spin-off browser specifically made for work would get very confusing and become a PR nightmare. Unfortunately, the current tab system is not working for the 800 million people who work on the web every single day.

For our most-used web applications, apps enable us to work with better organization and efficiency.

An email account should be an app

If your browser had apps, that’s what your email would be. It’s used all the time and should be pinned to a fixed location. It would always open as an app (not a tab) and even when it’s closed, its shortcut would be accessible from the browser window.

In the wake of COVID-19, more and more knowledge workers are transitioning to a remote environment. So it only makes sense to build a browser that incorporates apps into the workflow. Tabs are limited in their capabilities, and they seem to multiply at exponential rates. They also feel very temporary and the most important ones somehow get lost in our tab and bookmark structure.

But ultimately, the user shouldn't be forced to organize an outdated tab system, but browsers should create an interface that enables us to work with better efficiency.

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