Another day, another crazy Google update. While Google (and the many product teams that make up everything that falls under the jurisdiction of “Google”) are always tweaking, testing, updating, and changing things; this particular update may drastically change the way people look at the internet.
Google’s Chrome team is trying to replace the URL. The same team that lead the charge on enforcing the HTTPS standard on websites, is now looking to get rid of the traditional subdomains, domains, and parameters that make up the foundation of accessing websites. Quite literally, this would change the way that people see what website they are looking at.
Why would Google do this?
Naturally, this drastic change in accessing and viewing websites raises a lot of questions like, “uh why?” The simple answer is that URLs are just not working optimally anymore. That is to say, they still “function” in the manner they were originally intended, but they haven’t changed with the web over time.
You type in an address and your browser takes you to that website. But the way people use the internet today has evolved greatly, while URLs have mostly stayed the same. We’ve seen the web change with the uprising of smartphones—faster connections, and greater focus on personal security—but URLs have stagnated or become worse in some cases.
Redirects, redirects on redirects, language specific subdomains, URL shorteners, URL masking, and tracking parameters are just some of the issues impacting how a person perceives a URL.
“People have a really hard time understanding URLs,” says Adrienne Porter Felt, Chrome’s engineering manager. “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.”
Overall, the Chrome team is looking at URLs and trying to identify ways to enhance security and improve user experience. We can already see evidence of this in action with how Chrome handles HTTPS and another recent update that hides part of the URL.
First steps in changing URLs
Over the last couple years, it’s been no secret that Chrome has really been pushing for HTTPS. Through a series of visual updates and warnings, Chrome has alerted users of websites that properly use HTTPS and websites that don’t. This specific update didn’t change the URL directly, but was the first step in providing users more information on the security of websites they visited.
More recently, Google Chrome has started hiding the “https://www.” portion of URLs when Chrome is in a “resting state” (i.e. when a user is not actively typing in an URL). This hides the HTTP or HTTPS information and any mobile-specific subdomain information.
What does this mean for the future?
Looking at changes that have already been implemented by Chrome, we can start to formulate some theories on what URLs will look like down the road. Google search has already started highlighting and focusing on breadcrumb paths in search results, rather than tradition URLs. Something similar could be a next step for displaying URLs to users in Chrome.
It would seem unreasonable to expect Chrome to completely kill off the URL, but most likely it will find a way to accurately display URL-like information and create a better user experience. This would be similar to how Chrome is hiding some URL information, but still allowing users to access it by clicking into the address bar.
The Chrome team has already publicly stated their intention to do something to make URLs better. However, only time will tell exactly what that means.