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How to avoid being sucked into Wikipedia?
April 29, 2010 3:11 PM   Subscribe

Being sucked into Wikipedia keeps happening to me. What to do?

Occasionally there is something I need to look up on Wikipedia or through Google. While I am there I will often find other things I am interested in looking up, or that turn out to be necessary background for the first page. Pretty soon I have dozens of tabs open. It's not just totally random stuff; sometimes it is for my work and I really would be better off knowing whatever is in these pages, although it isn't necessarily my highest priority at the moment. I could make a note to look it up later, but I usually follow the Getting Things Done philosophy that something that only takes a couple of minutes is better done now rather than marked as a task, because once you take into account the amount of time spent prioritizing the task, looking at it every day, and so on, you would have spent more time if you had just done it in the first place. The problem is that some of these short "two-minute" tasks of reading a web page explode and create many others. Another problem is that I am reluctant to add new low-priority items to my task list because it so long already that I think I will never get to it (indeed, there is a low-priority item to look up dozens of things already) and I will have a nagging desire to look up whatever it is for the rest of the day.

I figure that MetaFilter is full of people who have this problem. Really the question is this: how to establish a balance of learning new and useful stuff while avoiding it stopping me from getting other work done for long periods? I'm looking mainly for suggestions on how to think about things and act on them differently, but if you have software suggestions (such as Firefox extensions to save a whole window full of tabs for later examination) I would appreciate them too.
posted by grouse to Computers & Internet (12 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
I figure that MetaFilter is full of people who have this problem. (grouse)

You betcha. I haven't tried it with Wikipedia, but with most things, I use Instapaper, which gives you a little bookmarklet that says "Read Later." They have an iPhone app (and there's Instafetch for Android phones). Whenever I find myself falling down the rabbit hole, I hit the bookmarklet which saves it to Instapaper. Instafetch automatically downloads the article to my phone so I can read it later on a subway ride or somesuch (this also means I don't need web access once the app has synced to read articles).
posted by ocherdraco at 3:20 PM on April 29, 2010 [3 favorites]

Bah, I came here to suggest Instapaper. That really helps curb my "oh, shiny!" method of Internet trawling when I need to focus.
posted by fantine at 3:25 PM on April 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

If you're trying to change your behavior, you could use multiple browsers to encourage new patterns in your work method. When you're going to look something up on Wikipedia, open a different browser with the intention that once you've looked up that specific thing, you'll close the browser and go back to your other application, or primary browser you're working in. This might help you associate going to Wikipedia with opening a new browser, and create a new habit to help you reform your current one.

If you want to save the tabs for later, just go to the "Bookmarks" menu in Firefox and choose "Bookmark All Tabs." The window that comes up will allow you to make a new folder where you can keep those tabs until you're ready to come back to them.
posted by jardinier at 3:26 PM on April 29, 2010

Just tested Instapaper with the Lesbianism in Erotica article from the xkcd cartoon, and it seems to work just fine (some sites don't play well with Instapaper because of how it strips out formatting, but Wikipedia doesn't seem to be one of them).

I should note that you don't have to use Instapaper with a phone—you can use it in your browser, too.

As for saving all tabs at once, I don't know of a way to do that for Instapaper in Firefox, but there is a solution for Safari, so I'm sure it's possible.
posted by ocherdraco at 3:28 PM on April 29, 2010

This happens to me with TVTropes, the most brain-suckingest rabbit hole on the internet. But I've finally managed to keep myself from going too deep into it at any given time by a very simple guideline: I only let myself open up three tabs at a time when I'm in information absorption mode. If I'm on a page, I can only click on two links from that page while I'm still reading it, and I can't do more than quickly glance at another tab until I'm done reading the first one. This causes me to prioritize and cull the irrelevant or tertiary links right away, and makes me commit more to the primary topic at hand. Every tab must get closed after I'm done reading it - if it needs to be revisited, I'll bookmark it. I've found that the more invested I am in the specific topic, the less I go spelunking for all sorts of random information, and I end up spending less time over all but with a higher level of comprehension.
posted by Mizu at 3:56 PM on April 29, 2010

I've been training myself to listen to that little nagging voice that says "Maybe I should close this browser window." Basically, make it a habit to always listen to that voice -- don't make excuses, don't wait until you're finished reading whatever you're reading, say goodbye to those other tabs that you'll never get to. It sounds like a stupid suggestion, but it's actually been working reasonably well for me. Habit can be a powerful force where willpower fails. The trick, of course, is that you need to force yourself to do it a few times do that it eventually becomes a habit, rather than a naked effort of will ... but it can be done.

The other trick is to use this strategy in conjunction with stuff like Instapaper, Blocksite, or whatever. Technical solutions are useful and valuable, but in my experience, if you don't also make that mental effort, you will find yourself ignoring or circumventing them. Likewise, mental effort alone won't work, especially in the early stages when you're trying to build it up into a habit.

(I've also experimented with disabling tabbed browsing, but I found that doing so made it too difficult to do my job. YMMV.)
posted by twirlip at 4:51 PM on April 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Edit your router to redirect your requests for wikipedia to some shock site.
posted by yoyoceramic at 5:00 PM on April 29, 2010

You could try the Richard Stallman method:
For personal reasons, I do not browse the web from my computer. (I
also have not net connection much of the time.) To look at page I
send mail to a demon which runs wget and mails the page back to me.
It is very efficient use of my time, but it is slow in real time.
If you did that with Wikipedia, I'm guessing you wouldn't go on too many clicking sprees.

I also remember somebody (Jamie Zawinski maybe?) deciding not to use tabbed browsing anymore.

These ideas may help, but they move you in a defensive direction. To go on the offense, you could do things like regularly taking breaks during which you break down your most important TODO tasks into their smallest, simplest components, and otherwise actively confront the positive things your mind is afraid of taking on (is there a fear of failure factor in your head? No idea, but think it over).

If I don't meditate during the day, and frequently, I get derailed and do the same thing.

You will need to build your own toolbox, but this is a very good start.
posted by circular at 5:28 PM on April 29, 2010 [4 favorites]

Session Manger for Firefox, will save all the current tabs in a browser/window.
posted by tallus at 7:08 PM on April 29, 2010

I know we're in the same field, and being as fast-paced as it is, there are always a thousand papers I should be reading, develpment platforms I should be looking at, or techniques I could be reading up on. I'd love to have time for it all, so I understand the urge.

What tears me away is remembering that biomedical science doesn't reward breadth of knowledge. It rewards those who are experts in their hyper-specialized field. More importantly, it rewards results.

So bookmark the stuff somewhere like Delicious, tag it, and get back to the project at hand. The next time you come up for air between projects and need to see what's new in the world, you can skim those bookmarks, read a dozen abstracts, and dive into a paper or two. Then, it's back to work.
posted by chrisamiller at 7:56 PM on April 29, 2010

If you're using Firefox, you could use Leechblock to only allow you 15 minutes of Wikipedia every day, or 5 minutes every hour, or whatever. Once you exceed that limit, you can't visit any new clicks on the site.
posted by Solomon at 9:46 PM on April 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

The only way I've found to do this is to have two computers: a desktop on a proper desk with a comfortable chair in front of it, and a laptop on a milk crate next to an insufficiently filled beanbag. The laptop is connected to the Internet, but I do not allow myself to take a live ethernet cable within 5 metres of the desktop. Needless to say, anytime I want to get something done I head for the comfortable chair.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 5:04 AM on April 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

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