Let me rephrase this for you. A lot of so-called "knowledge work" is just tedious, mind-numbing bullshit. Not only that, but you have to plow through it while fighting information overflow and your own overly complex tools, while acting completely alone. There are no librarians on the Internet.
No wonder everyone craves distractions.
>In the context of the browser, how do we contextualize pages and interactions inside some abstract task?
This train has sailed off its tracks long time ago.
Browsers aren't real tools. They are designed to make for smooth information consumption so that Google and co can harvest your money and attention as efficiently as possible.
I can list several hundred things a web browser should do if it aims at being "knowledge worker's tool". Let me just give some categories:
1. Features for pausing and restarting work in different mental contexts.
2. Local personalization. Shit like Timelines should be local and user-controller. "This is too complicated, so let's let Facebook/Twitter/Microsoft do it" is a lame excuse.
3. Did you notice that browsers still don't have any good authoring tools? Every websites reinvents their own WYSIWYG. "Developer tools" have everything for debugging, but almost nothing for creations of stuff.
4. User-driven integration between pages. (For example, something as simple as "when I open this page, go to that other page, find all the entries with word X and paste it here".)
Bah, that's enough. I can continue, but I think the point was made, unless the reader doesn't want to see it on purpose.
eg just before I switched to the web in 1995 I worked on an oracle forms system.
To deploy a pilot system to 5 seats the Other developer and I went to Liverpool and spent 2 day setting up those 5 people - this required feeding 15 or 16 floppy disks in the right order to install the oracle forms product.
As I said to my boss after the project was done imagine the savings if your rolling this out to 500 people and you could use the existing browser.
GP's point is that browsers ain't real tools for working with knowledge. I wholeheartedly agree. Today's browsers are complicated application runtimes that allow vendors to serve content however they wish. Vendors of Internet services have their own goals, of which helping the user is one of the least important. That's why UX on the web is one of horrible inefficiency and near-zero interoperability. A proper tool for knowledge worker need to support end-user customization and end-user control over content as first-class concern.
Well yeah. They're browsers, that's what they are.
"To browse: an act of casual looking or reading."
The views are organised by the needs of the source technology - "pages" generated by a web server - not by the needs of the user.
A lot of useful features - cross-referencing, comparisons, task-based content searches, dynamic content update notifications - are either impossible or poorly implemented on the server side.
There's never been an active browser that tries to integrate information instead of being a dumb page viewer with tabs and some form filling options.
This worked really well for search engines, but certain economic incentives crept in which pretty much killed off this idea. In particular:
- Many sites gained revenue by advertising
- Exposing data publically in easily parsed formats will mostly stop humans from viewing the page. Hence so much data is now in silos.
- Exposing services, like search, to bots can get expensive. Hence the rise of API keys.
The end result is the Web being dominated by a handful of user agents: a few search crawlers and a few user-facing browsers :(
Dynamic content update notification is a solved problem - how many sites ask you daily to enable notifications? It's an issue of will, not way. As for others - those are really client-side concerns, they should be implemented in the user agent (i.e. browser).
> There's never been an active browser that tries to integrate information instead of being a dumb page viewer with tabs and some form filling options.
Agreed there never have been (to my knowledge) an active browser that's fully suitable for knowledge work. That said, the few features there were supporting, to paraphrase Pólya, the intelligent reader, have over time been diminished or removed from the browsers. For instance, both RSS feeds and user-styling used to be first-class features of browsers; both are now either invisible or gone.
Not that everybody feels that way, but those people get vocal.
So in summary I guess he's saying in the search for solutions to burnt out knowledge workers we're focused too much on symptoms like distractions.
I use a spiralbound notebook and a fountain pen for mine, because I find the change of tools helps me to think about the project I'm logging on a meta level. I tried doing it in a textfile and it didn't work so well for me, but people are different.
As well, I'm more likely to treat looking up docs as a research project where I copy relevant snippets of the text into one place for easier reference.
I'm still unhappy with a lot of aspects of how I code, but most of it isn't on the end of the day-to-day editing, but rather things like, "oh, I switched languages again - time to relearn the string library".
I think that's why software companies are often approached with quite a bit of caution by other businesses. It's not like hiring an engineering firm, where you can be pretty certain you'll get an industry standardized result.
Also my host OS is my private leasure time system and of course that causes some distractions during the work day - pay bills, read about some new music band or movie.
Now I am contemplating about stripping host OS from all easy reach distractions (browser, email, side-projects) and creating dedicated private time VM.
Which IDE is this?
Firefox just opens with all the same tabs by default (at least it does for me. I don't recall if it's a setting I selected).
It's a setting. In your preferences, under start-up, check restore previous session. IIRC, you can also restore the previous session from the history menu even if you don't have that option checked.
Likewise, Chrome in particular will also allow you to recover closed tabs if you accidentally close the window. I'm not sure if Firefox has the setting but I would assume it does.
Also, on the subject, it helps me by being able to store a window, or a group of windows for later. And when I've opened a bunch of tabs for a specific task, I can easily pop them out into a separate window to focus on them, or to have less distraction when showing stuff to a colleague.
I've used this plugin for years and it's been great.
I learned to treat browsers like this because of Chrome, actually, and its resident processes that still eat my RAM even after I close all browser windows.
menu -> history -> recently closed -> XX tabs
It will open all the tabs you had going when you closed.
In reality, (1) we are all distracted, (2) our work usually consists of a large number of small chunks that are spread over time (3) we all have a large pile of undone work (both “job” and “personal”) that we're always feeling guilty about.
What do we do about this difference between the ideal and reality? We could just give up on the ideal and resign to the reality — or even make it worse. Or we could try to fight it superficially, and fail (there's a reason things are the way they are). Or we could start from accepting the reality (instead of ignoring it), but try to move towards the ideal, e.g: (1) reduce whatever it is that makes us seek distractions (very different from blocking distractions), (2) make it easier to get back on track (e.g. keep track of the task being done).
In coming up with this problem statement, the author believes he's diverged from the usual problems being imagined: things like trying to block distractions, trying to maximize efficiency, “collaboration”.
[That just restated the post, so I don't know if it helps :)]
And one who knows exactly what steps are going to be involved and how long each one is going to take, weeks or even months in advance. The fact that I approach every new programming problem with: "ok, how the hell do I figure this one out?" made me feel really nervous early on in my career, since there seemed to be this default expectation that not just good, not even just adequate, but even mediocre programmers could blurt out a list of the tasks involved in solving a problem, "estimate" (meaning predict with +/- 5% accuracy) the hours associated with each and then robotically plow through each of them. This was back in the 90's, before somebody named this "agile" and built a set of Orwellian tools and "coaching strategies" around it, but after a few years I couldn't help but notice that, in spite of being an abject failure at accurately predicting how long each bug fix was going to take before I even really knew what it entailed, I was also one of the most sought after developers in every organization I worked at.
This could use all the addictiveness techniques of current "engagement+advertising" platforms and turn it to good use.
As a concrete example: I frequently find myself needing to figure out how to implement some software task I've never done before myself, involving concepts that I barely know anything about. This usually results in dozens of opened tabs in multiple subtrees - Google searches, Github repos, and so on. This might overflow my main "browsing" Firefox window, so I end up opening a second FF window just to hold those tabs. Per the article, maybe there's a better way to capture the notion of "I'm trying to research this topic over the course of a week - how do I better organize what I'm working on, and perhaps share that info with others?".
What's this comment about? Just need a rant...
The reality is that the problem statement, that knowledge workers are constantly engaged with unproductive, nonsensical asks, is true. Knowledge workers must overcome this by being exactly the worker they've been advised not to be: ignoring emails and chats, not being present at their open-plan desks, declining any meeting that won't immediately please their manager.
No sinister force is the cause of these problems; simple entropy of organizations is to blame: failing to allocate resources to document and streamline processes is to blame.
Editing tip: you can delete sentences like this without loosing much. The following text should do a good enough job of making a point without an introduction helping it along. The trick to editing is to backspace as many words as you can.
Also, losing not loosing.
Laertes : I am lost in it, my lord.