Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Google and Mozilla giving up on URLs?

In the past few weeks, there have been indications that two of the Internet's biggest browsers are reconsidering the central position of the URL in web browsing. Firefox and Chrome's designers are looking at ways to downsize, repurpose or remove the traditional "location bar" where traditionalists have been used to typing web addresses for years.
This comes as no great shock - even in the early days of the web, efforts were made by the likes of AOL to use keywords to navigate to websites. AOL failed, ultimately, but the concept succeeded. In today's web, entering a known URL is unusual for most people - we trust our search engines to bring back the content we require from our search terms, and we use our bookmarks to keep track of things we like - never needing to see the URL itself. Advertisers are starting to make more use of this too - it is increasingly difficult to get short, memorable domain names, and people make typos. If you can be sure your site ranks well for the name of your company, you don't need to worry about people mis-spelling your domain (and when your name is a bit tough to pronounce outside of the English speaking world.. or even in it... yeah, but we have always been called Smoothwall, so we're sticking to it, thanks!).

With the web losing some of the location-based addressing that ties content to domains and urls, and more web applications taking content from a variety of sources, this move would seem to send a warning to some popular URL-(ab)users - who needs link shorteners in a world without typing links? If everything is sent with embedded links, or transferred to meatspace as keywords rather than URL these services may see a decline. Interestingly for Smoothwall, and our users, this could accelerate the demise of the URL filter. When we no longer need sites to identify themselves as positively in URL, we can be more ambiguous - for example, bbc may no longer feel the need to have all sport under /sport - they aren't doing that to benefit a URL filter, and if there's diminishing benefit for the consumer, need they maintain these syntactic niceties?

Interesting times ahead folks.

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