f5 f5 f5 and breathe

f5 f5 f5 f5 and breathe.

Aaaaaah.

f5 and f5 and f5 yeaaaaaaah.

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Refreshing my browser doesn’t usually provoke such catharsis. But for the last 24 hours any attempt to revisit a previously reviewed page has resulted in being bounced to google search. So perhaps my reaction is a little more understandable.

But you might lose any sympathy when I tell you that I broke my internet on purpose. In the interests of science. With myself as the rat in a hall of mirrors of my own design.

Because I wanted to see what would happen if I forced myself to only go forward on the web, to break my surfing habits, to forge new digital trails and discover new lands. To turn my back on the familiar and the routine. To not check Facebook a half dozen times a day. To maybe avoid the distraction of my regular web browsing, or at least find new distractions.

So I got our Alex Matthews, our Creative Tech guru, to build me a browser extension that, when activated, only let me visit particular web pages once. That visit added them to a ban list and any attempt to revisit bounced to google homepage. I whitelisted google sites since our work email runs off google apps – I didn’t think that I’d be able to use ‘Amateur Science’ as an excuse for not replying to email.

Simultaneously I ran some extensions tracking my browsing and web activity to see if I either spent less time online or visited a greater variety of sites with the blocker turned on. The results, I must admit, are inconclusive. Work does get in the way of pure academic research. I had to turn the blocker off quite regularly to get anything done at all. I also found myself cheating my own experiment – browsing in incognito mode where I didn’t have the blocker activated. Using my phone to check twitter and other sites. But yes, I did use less internet with the blocker activated, largely out of frustration.

Of course, a browser extension that stops you revisiting the same old web is only partially interesting. What if instead of bouncing to google it displayed a list of previously unvisited web pages related to the site you had tried to visit? Could it become a serendipitous discovery engine based on the sites you already visit and enjoy? There isn’t really an alternative to facebook or twitter or netflix, but for news and entertainment and sports and tech reviews and online video there is plenty of scope for diversification. ‘Here’s something new’ trumps ‘You can’t go back’ and we’re talking about integrating this into a future release.
A 2010 Nielsen survey reveals that on average people visit 89 sites in a given month. So far in November I have visited over 350. On this computer. Which is one of four connected devices I used on any given day. The point of the Don’t Go Back extension experiment was two-fold. First, to force me to take a look at my online behaviour and maybe make some changes to how and where I browse. And second, to demonstrate that it’s a big old web out there with billions of pages to visit and explore and experience. Habits are hard to break – enforced variety might be what’s needed to spice up online life.

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If you want to try out the ‘Don’t go back’ extension and break the internet for yourself, here’s what to do:

– Download Don’t Go Back
– go to chrome://extensions
– select “developer mode” at top of page
– then click “Load unpacked extension”
– select the folder that you unzipped to

 

PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS IS UNSUPPORTED AND VERY VERY ALPHA SOFTWARE AND YOU INSTALL IT AT YOUR OWN RISK.

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