Google is experimenting on hiding the pathname of the URL in Chrome (mainly to prevent phishing). After I first read about it on Paul Irish’s Hackernews post, I did what a “proper internet citizen” does when they get angry: ragetweeted about it;
Couple days later (and after calming down) I read Jake Archibald’s “Improving the URL bar” blog post which got me thinking: URLs are truly broken for the non-web-savvy users. I too have those elderly relatives and acquaintances who always “pester” me with their computer-related questions, so I can imagine a bit how hard the web usage can sometimes be for them. It’s easy for me to defend the complexities of the URL, but (as Jake showed in his example URLs) for those non-web-savvy users it is impossible to notice the difference between:
and a phishing-site:
… if it’s even hard for us “so called web-savvy” users. So hiding the full URL and only showing the domain has its benefits as it increases the changes of non-web-savvy noticing that something’s off with the URL.
What about the web-savvy users then? What about the Internet?
- If you arrived to a page via link you can always verify your location by looking at the URL (and especially the path).
- It helps you to understand the general information architecture of the site (even if the site’s web design has made it more complex than it actually is).
- You don’t need to try to find a link to <somewhere> if you know that the resource is located at /<somewhere>
Even it makes everyday life of non-web-savvy users a lot easier, I personally don’t believe hiding the full URL is a good thing. I know it’s there available on click/focus, but we’re still talking about the core concept of the web:
I don’t think it deserves to be hidden.
After trying out the experimental feature in Chrome Canary, I came up with a really simple idea that could be a solution that works for both non-savvy and savvy web users. I quickly threw something together in Photoshop to demonstrate and then tweeted it:
Basically, highlight the domain and slightly fade out the pathname part (and rest) of the URL.
By highlighting the domain it’s really easy for the user to understand in which website she currently is as the domain doesn’t get mixed with the “noise” of the URL path, query parameters or fragment identifiers.
In my example the whole domain and subdomains are highlighted. Another variation could be even to highlight only the domain-name and the tld, leaving subdomains unhighlighted, which would especially help noticing phishing sites.
The rest of the domain (path, query parameters and fragment identifiers) would still be always visible and accessible, but not in a disrupting way. I really hope Chrome developers would consider solution like this as it doesn’t take away features from the more advanced users, but still “simplifies the URL” enough for the non-web-savvy users.
Secure vs. insecure
As couple people already pointed out, my example image is problematic as the browser can’t really always determine which site is “secure” versus “insecure”. At least I’d hope browsers would even more highlight trustworthy/verified sites with EV SSL certificates and so on.