TurboNav’s Vision: A System to Manage Knowledge Discovery Effectively
September 11, 2021
In this article, I'll unpack my goal with TurboNav, what I aim to achieve, the big picture, and the steps I'll take to get there.
The Problem and Frustrations
The never-ending context switching is what drew me to the tab management space. Being in constant context switching made things overwhelming. Working on many projects and having to manage a multitude of information made it hard to stay sane.
I never seemed to get a good handle on how to manage tabs. This situation caused tabs to accumulate. I tried out many extensions, tips, and strategies, but none of them worked. I couldn't find an extension that was easy to use and helped manage the information I consumed.
As I was brainstorming ideas for a better way to manage tabs, I made a connection with my workflow using IntelliJ, my IDE of choice. Over the years, I've adapted keyboard shortcuts to speed file navigation to the point where I stopped relying on file tabs. This article No tabs in IntelliJ IDEA was my gateway to this setup.
Programmers are constantly shuffling information when developing applications. We create mental models of the applications to help us debug and navigate the codebase areas, and we do this with relative ease.
Tools help facilitate this aspect. It has become second nature for programmers to use these tools. We've adapted these tools to create techniques that help us efficiently navigate large codebases. Advance features in the IDE exist to search for a file, navigate to a class definition, navigate to recent files, among other things. These actions can be done through keyboard shortcuts and command palettes. The thought of transferring those concepts over to a browser was fascinating.
The rise of apps like Obsidian and Roam, gave me more reason to pursue this area. These tools are rapidly becoming the IDE's for our notes. This article goes into details about ITE's or Integrated Thinking Environments. I believe an ITE is waiting to be built for the browser 
As I was thinking about what such a system would look like on a browser, I immediately focused on the core user experience, the Command-Line.
The Command-Line Experience
For users to stick to something, the user experience needs to be fast. It needs to feel like you're interacting with the computer at the speed of thought.
The Command-Line is making its way into products like Superhuman and Linear. Not a new concept, but it's starting to gain popularity with prosumer applications. With just a few keystrokes, you type what you want and select a command. The software executes the command for you—no need to waste time looking through menus and sub-menus. You are discovering functionality as you go.
What if we applied this experience to the browser. Just use the keyboard to interact with tabs. Helping you easily manage tabs and information you accumulated, with commands. This has to be the future.   
Tab Hoarders, You're Not Alone
I had to slow down and see where I was heading. What problem was I trying to solve? After all, I'm working towards something that can help others and provide sustainable living for me. 😁
It turns out I'm not alone, and there's research out there that shows why we suck at managing tabs. A recent study discussed different pressure factors that play into why we tend to keep tabs open.  The research paper lists six.
- Reminders and Unfinished Tasks
- Revising Frequently Accessed Pages
- Avoiding Costly Re-finding
- Sunk Costs and the Aspirational Self
- External Mental Models
- Uncertain and Changing Relevance
I find these factors highly relevant when it comes to how knowledge workers approach research and investigation. Knowledge workers often require information to make decisions, and the information can span across multiple sets of information. This problem leads me to the end goal of why I'm building TurboNav.
Being In the Flow and Processing Discoveries
When it comes to juggling all sorts of information on your browser, we are experts. But effectively managing that flow of information is another story. You'll notice you are constantly jumping from one topic to another, from one project to the next. There seems no end. But we ignore the cost of piling tabs in exchange for the right nugget of information, for the discovery that will expand your knowledge to the next level.
I recently had the revelation that information discovery does not happen in a linear path. It can't. Distractions are constantly bombarding us, external and internal. Furthermore, discoveries happen serendipitously. A system should exist that can accommodate these moments. Only then do I believe we can tame information and, in turn, also tabs.
Think of that aha moment, that moment you yelled out Eureka! That spark of insight when you put two things together. That's what tends to happen as we consume information. We have sparks of insight that help us further progress in our projects, research, or task at hand.
I see managing tabs as a layer to Personal Knowledge Management. Webpages are gateways to a vast amount of information, where you can make discoveries. We live in a world where we consume too much information but are making minimal effort to make sense of this information.
I believe we seek knowledge at the expense of too many tabs. That's why my plan is to work on a system that makes it easy for you to manage information from links you encounter by:
- Keeping track of long investigation sessions that span days (via multiple tabs and multiple devices)
- Easily keep track of your working notes to construct thoughts and ideas effectively (immediately, while browsing online)
- Making connections with external information and your thoughts
So that's the vision. What's my next step to making this a reality? I'm going to break the development of TurboNav into two phases.
The first phase will support a command-line experience that helps you easily navigate your tabs and create a structure for your active tabs.
I have built a basic tab viewer that will lay the foundations for what I have planned. A basic Command-Line input interface to continue the journey of a fast-feedback experience.
TurboNav also supports the ability to save a link using tag organization and scheduling tabs for later. All through a keyboard-focused command-line experience
Creating structure for your active tabs will be the next feature. Think of this as a way to create boundaries for the information you are consuming. For example, you have a window for your online shopping, one for the articles you're reading, and one for your work. Compared to having three tasks scattered across many windows and tabs, that's insanity, but I've fallen victim to this many times. You can then use the command-line to quickly find your tabs and get started with the task at hand by having this structure.
After working on user feedback and getting positive results, I'll move on to information management. I have a few ideas, but for now, I have my work cut out. I'll share updates as I continue this voyage.
I'm also validating the idea. I need to make sure I'm taking the right path and not going in circles, building something no one will use, and building a product that will make my indie hacking voyage sustainable. So I'll be chatting with folks who are interested in this space. To investigate what their existing flow is like and what gaps exist from existing products. Doing so will help shape the core user experience for better managing information.
This idea behind knowledge discovery will likely evolve too, so I’ll be deconstructing the concept and discoveries in here 👇
If you are interested in chatting about tab management and personal knowledge management. Let’s connect:
- Obsidian, Roam, and the rise of Integrated Thinking Environments—what they are, what they do, and what's next - Axle
- The History of Command Palettes: How Typing Commands Became The Norm Again
- The Command Line Comeback. In consumer, everything old is new…
- So you're building a "Superhuman of X"?
- When the Tab Comes Due: Challenges in the Cost Structure of Browser Tab Usage