How Many Tabs Do People Use? (Not Many.)

I've been remiss not to link to Patrick Dubroy's findings on how people use tabs. As part of his master’s thesis, he has done an extensive study on people's use of tabs in Firefox. In April, he has shared some of his findings.

Before looking at the numbers, it should be pointed out that the study uses a self-selected sample of people, and that it only covers people who already used Firefox with "multiple tabs or windows" before taking part in the study. The recruitment email said, in part:

If you use Mozilla Firefox for several hours a day, and often use multiple tabs or windows, then you are a candidate for the study. If you choose to participate, you’ll install a Firefox extension that will log various actions, e.g. clicking on a link, visiting a bookmark, opening a new tab, and clicking the back button.

So the the results are not representative of the average Internet user, but are slanted towards people who know what Firefox is and how to install it, and who describe themselves as somebody who "often uses multiple tabs or windows". But even so, the results don't look too good for tabs. Dubroy writes:

The most common number of tabs to have open is one, with a pretty steady descent down to 9. It flattens out and hits a valley at 13, but then rises slightly again for a second peak at 16. So, again we see a slight bi-modality to the distribution.

Even in this self-selected group of Firefox tab users, most people use few (up to nine) or no tabs, while a small number of people use them extensively. Unfortunately, those who use them extensively are the same people who often decide which features go into applications:

The four highest tab creation rates belong to the four participants with Computer Science and/or programming backgrounds.

It looks as though programmers are happy with how tabs work, so they add them to more applications, while most non-programmers make less or no use of tabs.

You should probably go read Dubroy's blog post outlining some results of his study, and if you're interested in it, there's also an earlier blog post with some additional information.

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designed for use cover

But wait, there's more!

Want to read more like this? Buy my book's second edition! Designed for Use: Create Usable Interfaces for Applications and the Web is now available DRM-free directly from The Pragmatic Programmers. Or you can get it on Amazon, where it's also available in Chinese and Japanese.