URLs - The Bonnet Left Ajar
— 7th May 2014
Very interesting to read this development in Google's Chrome browser. I'm very much in favour of the URL being left clearly visible but at the same time it does niggle that this might be a usability pain or the generator of anxiety.
Whilst most of the web hides it’s innards behind the View Source or the Developer Tools the URL has always been there for all to see. A little chink, like the bonnet of a car being left slightly open, which allows you to have a little peak inside the workings. Maybe even spot some patterns and gain some understanding (if you're paying attention). However, I can see why people might like to gently close that bonnet and try and make everything smooth and seamless.
After all if you're going to leave a little gap there, why not leave one elsewhere too? The web used to do a lot more of that (broken image icons, default 404 pages) but over the years a lot of those bumps have been smoothed out. Maybe this is just inexorable progress towards Better Usability?
Still it feels to me like the URL should stay. One of the things I’ve been thinking a lot about recently is the idea that links on HTML pages aren't really like connections. They're more like signposts. They send you off somewhere by telling you where to go. The fact that everything on the web has an address means they can do this, and that URL and be copied and shared and it'll always go to the same place. When that isn't the case something it isn't the web and there's no harm in users seeing that.
Of course it can be done badly, confusingly, and even in a malicious and misleading kind of way, but that’s not to say that it shouldn't be there. By taking it away we remove and important clue which allows people to form a mental model of the web that makes sense; one that corresponds to reality.