Google Wants to Kill URLs in Chrome

Posted on September 6, 2018 by Paul Thurrott in Cloud, Google with 33 Comments

With Chrome hitting the ten-year mark this past week, Google is moving aggressively to future-proof its web browser. And in the wake of sweeping user experience changes and a dramatic shift in how Chrome handles insecure websites, Google’s next major target is the URL.

“People have a really hard time understanding URLs,” Chrome engineering manager Adrienne Porter Felt told Wired. “They’re hard to read, it’s hard to know which part of them is supposed to be trusted, and in general I don’t think URLs are working as a good way to convey site identity. So we want to move toward a place where web identity is understandable by everyone: They know who they’re talking to when they’re using a website and they can reason about whether they can trust them. But this will mean big changes in how and when Chrome displays URLs. We want to challenge how URLs should be displayed and question it as we’re figuring out the right way to convey identity.”

This makes sense. Website URLs—Uniform Resource Locators—are a weird vestigial leftover from the overly-techie past, an often complex and lengthy string of characters that users should never really have to deal with directly. They’re particularly problematic on mobile, too, where on-screen real estate is at a premium. Worse, they can be insecure: It’s easy for hackers to change a few characters in a lengthy URL to misdirect users to an insecure site where they can be compromised.

As with all such changes, however, Google is sure to run into roadblocks. Indeed, as Wired notes in its report, this isn’t the first time Google tried to kill the URL: In 2014, it launched a campaign to replace lengthy URLs with an “origin chip” that displayed only a site’s domain name in the address bar until a user clicked on it. But push-back from users scuttled the plans.

Unfortunately, we won’t be seeing Google’s URL replacement anytime soon: The firm is currently investigating how its customers use URLs so that it can enhance security, promote the site’s identity, and enable easy sharing without compromising the experience.

“I don’t know what this will look like, because it’s an active discussion in the team right now,” Chrome director of engineering Parisa Tabriz said. “But I do know that whatever we propose is going to be controversial. That’s one of the challenges with a really old and open and sprawling platform. Change will be controversial whatever form it takes. But it’s important we do something, because everyone is unsatisfied by URLs. They kind of suck.”

Yes. Yes, they do.

 

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