April 10th, 2015
At the Mozilla blog there's a fascinating post about research Gemma Petrie & Bill Selman did into how real users handle Task Continuity, i.e. the mechanics of dealing with stuff they want to read online now as opposed to stuff they want to get back to later:
Based on our research, we developed a general model of what the task continuity process looks like for our participants. Task continuity is a behavior cycle with three distinct stages: Discover, Hold/Push, and Recover.
The Discover stage of the task continuity cycle includes tasks or content in an evaluative state. At this stage, the user decides whether or not to (actively or passively) do something with the content.
The Hold/Push stage of the cycle describes the task continuity-enabling action taken by the user. In this stage, users may:
- Passively hold tasks/content (e.g. By leaving a tab open)
- Actively hold tasks/content (e.g. By emailing it to themselves)
- Push tasks/content to others by sharing it (e.g. Posting it on Facebook)
In the Recover stage of the task continuity cycle, the user is reminded of the task/content (e.g. By seeing an open tab) or recalls the task/content (e.g. Through contextual cues). Relying on memory was one of the most common recovery methods we observed. In order to fully recover the task/content, the user may need to perform additional actions like following a link or reconstructing an activity path.
It seems that emailing yourself a link to look at later is still a thing, which I find both amazing and a bit depressing. Also, there's a distinct lack of mentions of just bookmarking the content in the web browser you're using to read the content in the first place, which rather suggests that browser makers have been wasting their time with that whole bookmarking feature they've all been using for the last couple of decades.
For what it's worth, my usual approach to seeing stuff in my web browser that I'll want to come back to depends upon whether I want it as reference material or just don't have time to look at it right now: material I know I'll definitely want to refer to, especially if I'm likely to want to look at it more than once1 goes to Evernote, where I can tag it and set a reminder alarm if need be. Content that I'll want to look at later (possibly with a view to filing it in Evernote if it's worth keeping) gets bookmarked in Pinboard. Text-heavy content that I know I'll want to read but that is lengthy enough to require a significant chunk of my time is likely to be consigned to Instapaper. Whichever way it goes, one click and I'm ready to move on to the next browser tab.2
Interestingly (Well, I find it interesting!)) the only real exception to that general approach comes when I see a YouTube or Vimeo video I want to come back to: if I'm already on the YouTube or Vimeo site I'll generally use those sites' Watch Later features to tag that content, so that next time I'm in the mood to kill some time watching a bunch of videos it'll be to hand.3
- e.g. a snippet of Applescript, or a web page showing the opening hours of a local supermarket over a bank holiday weekend ↩
- Mac OS X and iOS try hard to encourage users to use Safari's reading list feature to grab content to review later, but that's no good to me if I might want to look at the items when I'm using a non-Apple device, i.e. if I'm browsing from work during my lunch break using Firefox on a Windows PC. ↩
- I still tend to do my video-watching in batches rather than visiting YouTube/Vimeo multiple times during a browsing session. The good old days of reading the internet in batches via a metered dial-up connection scarred me for life shaped my browsing habits in ways I still can't shake. ↩