Overcoming "browser tab seventy-three"

So now that NetNewsWire (NNW) is free, everyone should go download it and enjoy the love. It was the first app I ever bought for Mac, and it would seem I will only have to pay for it once. Hearty shout-outs to Brent!

That said, any experienced NNW user knows that information overload is easy to get yourself into and hard to elude once you’re wrapped in its grasp. The very manly Merlin Mann brought us Inbox Zero and I knew I needed to strive for Feeds Zero, in addition to browser-tab zero, Twitter-zero, etc. Unfortunately, Feeds Zero can lead to dozens of open browser tabs in NNW. Fortunately, NNW is better than any other WebKit app I’ve seen at dealing with this.

But now I’ve got a ton of browser tabs in NNW holding down my soul. A contemporary, first-world problem. In trying to keep up with feeds, one spawns many dozens of browser windows. Lots of stuff to read. But, the sheer mass of 100+ tabs is considerable friction holding you back from, you know, acquiring all that information.

Here’s my current situation:

NetNewsWire tab overload

I get myself into it pretty frequently. I bet you do too. Here’s how I get through it.

h2. Work from both ends

In NNW, Cmd-Shift-Left and Cmd-Shift-Right move you up and down the vertical tab bar. Sometimes what I see in the first several tabs just isn’t appealing at the moment, though I can easily convince myself that my future self will find it intriguing. So I just turn around and head the other way. I might find something I like in that direction.

In fact, if you just finished some un-bolding, the newest, freshest links will end up closer to the Cmd-Shift-Right side of the list. In theory, your current self found that intriguing enough that you could actually start reading it now. ;)

h2. Just close the tab

As I’ve alluded to, sometimes your past self just has poor taste. Your former self pulled up some article that you know, really, you’re only barely interested in reading. Or maybe you just felt guilty not reading it, but you still wanted to unbold it.

Look, sometimes your Attention Bush needs trimming. Cmd-W is your friend, people. It makes the pain go away, no matter what app you’re in.

h2. Export to HTML, process outside of NNW

Recently, I’ve found the first two tricks weren’t helping me. My tab list just grew and grew. The guilt became intolerable. So I rebooted. Kinda.

Tab->Export Tabs in NNW is my new best friend. I used it to export all my tabs to an HTML file. Then I sorted the list in TextMate, so as to collect everything by author, rather than over time. I’ve been pulling a few links off this list every now and then. Once they’re in my real web browser, I remove them from the list.

A couple days in, I’m already a fourth of the way through the list. And I’ve been able to guiltlessly tackle my feeds. Happy.

h2. Know what you’re up against

I have an AppleScript that tells me how many tabs I have open in NNW. Its vital for telling me whether I should focus on “feed zero” or “tab zero”. You can see the window it displays the count in the screenshot above. Here’s the code of the script:

tell application "NetNewsWire"
	set theCount to ((number of tabs) - 1) as string
	display dialog theCount & " open tabs" buttons {"OK"} default button 1
end tell

Stick it in @~/Library/Application Support/NetNewsWire/Scripts@ and it will appear in the Script Menu for NNW. I like to use the Keyboard Preferences pane to bind the script to Control-Cmd-C for quick use.

So. I’ve given you some chisels that you can use to work down that attention boulder you’ve made for yourself. Just remember that the goal is to acquire new and fascinating information and still get stuff done. Keeping those attention sails well trimmed is the best way to avoid hundreds of NNW browser tabs.

Adam Keys @therealadam