Lifehacker Australia editor Angus Kidman recently wrote a post on why you should never have more than nine browser tabs open. That proved quite controversial when it ran on the Lifehacker US site. I'd mount a different argument to Angus: it's OK to have a lot of tabs open if you use the right tricks and technology to keep them all organised..
"Unload" Items To Save Memory
As I make my rounds on the internet, I often keep a tab open because it reminds me of something I want to do later in the day, or I know I'm going to need it soon. In this case, I've found it's good to "unload" these tabs so they don't suck up your browser's memory and slow it down. In Chrome, we have a high regard for The Great Suspender, which automatically unloads tabs that haven't been in use for a while. Firefox users can check out BarTab Lite X, which allows you to unload a tab just by right-clicking on it. That way, you can keep that tab in your tab bar without it slowing down your browser.
Organise Tabs Into Groups
If you need to constantly flip between 20 different tabs while doing research, closing or unloading them isn't really an option. You may not be able to keep your browser from slowing down, but you can organise them so they're easier to access using TooManyTabs for Chrome or Firefox. With this extension, you can see your tabs from a "bird's eye view," making it much easier to jump to the tab you need at any given point. You can even search through your open tabs, unload ones you don't need yet, and sort them by title, domain or creation time. It won't necessarily keep your browser from slowing down, but if you have no other choice, this will at least make all those tabs easier to use.
Use A Read Later Service
A lot of people open multiple tabs when you're lining up articles you want to read -- say, as you scroll through the pages of your favourite tech blog. If you find that this is too hard to navigate or causes slowdowns, there are other solutions. We've talked about "read later" apps such as Pocket, Instapaper, and Readability before, and they work really well in this scenario. Just send your articles to one of these services and they'll be saved for you in a list -- without any ads or other formatting -- so you don't have to keep all those tabs open even though you're reading one article at a time. Even if you plan on reading those articles right now, this is often a better solution than opening them up in tabs.
Even faster would be to use our previously mentioned tricks for reading multiple blogs. Sort them all into RSS feeds to keep all your blogs in one tab, then just send the articles you star to your read later service of choice. You'll never have to open more than one tab, and you'll be able to read all those articles without having to "find" them again.
Get An Extension Or A Desktop App
One of my personal problems is that I always have about six tabs pinned in my browser at a time: email, my calendar, my Google Voice inbox and other stuff are always there since I reference them so often during the day (and don't want to reload them every time). Reader SARodrigues offers a good solution to that:
Try replacing pinned tabs with extensions, if possible. It keeps them out of the sight, easily accessible and with the added bonus of notifications.
I grouped my emails in the X-notifier extension, feeds in the Google Reader extension, and even my Transmission tab with Remote Transmission extension. The only pinned tab I currently have is Google Music, but soon it will be replaced too.
Of course, you could also offload those things to desktop clients for things like email, as reader geekgirlbarbie argues:
Assuming a few of the tabs are Gmail accounts and Google Reader (I'm guessing, correct me if I'm wrong), and assuming you're computer is powerful enough, you can easily eliminate a few tabs using Thunderbird, Postbox, Pidgin, or FeedDemon (which honestly is much better for power users than Google Reader). That would eliminate a few of your pinned tabs, leaving more open for browsing and give you a few more powerful features to boot.
There are many other tools and tips out there to manage your overflowing tab bar, but this should help get you started. While I do agree that fewer tabs is often better -- and I'll minimise the number of tabs I open whenever possible -- sometimes, having 30 tabs open is OK. You just need to manage them properly to stay sane.
A brief note from Angus: A core part of the Lifehacker ethos is that there's often more than one way to solve a problem. If you find the notion of nine tabs too restrictive, these are excellent possible solutions -- but what's in common across these approaches and the one I suggested is that all involve managing your behaviour. Wildly flinging tabs open without some kind of plan is asking for performance issues and won't make you more efficient. Happy browsing!