An Archaeology of Browsing…

So here’s a weird sensation. I’m trying to install a Photoshop upgrade at two in the morning, because i’m jetlagged and can’t concentrate on work but can’t sleep either so I’m procrastinating. And in order to install said upgrade I’m going to have to restart my browser. So I start the process of closing down windows and tabs and adding them to a little bookmarks stash and I’m about forty-five tabs down (and about half-way through the process) when I start finding clumps of windows that I opened during presentations at ETCon. One browser window is full tabs stuffed with ubicomp and networked objects sites, another is full of robot-related material. As I grab the URLs and stuff them in a folder for later, I start to realise how clearly I remember navigating to each of the sites and how I’d determined to keep them for later. Suddenly I’m back in the auditoria, next to Phil and Paul keeping notes and listening for the hum of the infinity of extension cords that litter the carpet around us.

If they’d all been hand-outs, I’d have them in my hands – little grubby bits of paper stacked in piles here and there, clogging up bags and boxes and bookcases. Every so often I’d glance inside them to find one thing in particular and a wave of nostalgia and association would fill my head. That is – at least – until I finally snapped and threw them all away. Now until this point I’d always assumed that the web was getting rid of interactions like that – that our relationships to sites were transitory and fleeting – but now I’m not so sure. The act of “saving” and the act of “having open” are gradually merging and I can foresee a time when I haven’t closed my browser in months rather than weeks and in which I’ve managed to accumulate thousands of open windows across a whole range of applications. The stuff near the surface will be the stuff I’ve been working on recently, but I’ll be able to do an archaeology of my own browsing when I’m bored and filter through the collected papers, throwing away the things that no longer have any relevance to my life. Will we start wanting to transfer documents in their open states between computers when we upgrade? Will we expect a computer desktop to be as persistent and never-changing as a wooden one? When someone famous dies, will the biographer go through their enormous accumulated browser cache to find out what they were interested in five or ten years ago?

10 replies on “An Archaeology of Browsing…”

IIRC, the first Unix port of Netscape uncovered a bunch of really slow memory leaks that had remained hidden in the Win and Mac builds because the OS always crashed before the bugs went critical. The *nix versions were the first ones to stay up and running for days on end, which pointed out these weird, minor, cumulative bugs.

errr… isn’t it more likely you’ve developed a rather idiosyncratic way of working? I’ve certainly never heard of anyone working like that before…

I find a similar thing using Mozilla’s history function which I have open in a side bar. I can’t, however, foresee a day when I would be comfortable leaving a whole stack of open tabs on a browser without committing them to bookmark groups. Once I’ve actually bookmarked it I do tend to tidy the clutter away making it like my real desk – only I tidy the paperwork into the bin.
I am intrigued by the notion of active note-taking and collaborating via the network in a conference setting (never having done it myself). Isn’t there a temptation to wander of to other parts of the web when the speakers are dull? Does it change the way people present if a large number of the audience are connected?

I keep expecting Safari’s “open in tabs” feature to work in reverse, and then being disappointed when it doesn’t. I want to bookmark all the tabs in one window into a single folder, and preferably make a few notes on the folder at the same time.

Browsing history
Tom Coates, having left his web browser open for a few weeks and accumulated quite a stack of open pages sitting in the background, thinks keeping lots of browser windows open even if you’re not going to return to them for a couple of weeks might just …

I had the same experience in coming back from etech! There is something interesting about sets of browser tabs-they reflect not just the temporal, I opened this before that, but add in a bit of topical organization.
I really like Ian’s suggestion of being able to bookmark all the tabs into a single folder.
I use, so I’ve got the ability to file things away reasonably quickly, but still I loose that feel of a whole area of discourse being open at one time.

Window Overload
I understand what Tom’s going through; so many times I’ve ignored an important application update because I basically have too many things open to close. Of course, your definition of “too many” will depend on who you are. When Safari…

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