Google Chrome flirts with killing URLs

Google has an interesting idea for upcoming versions of Chrome that could either make browsing safer or destroy the web as we know it. The latest build of Canary, Google's experimental version of the Chrome browser, introduced a feature that does away with URLs, also known as web addresses.

The new feature, called the Origin Chip, wasn't enabled by default in my tests. But you can turn it on by enabling the Chrome flag "chrome://flags/#origin-chip-in-omnibox" and setting it to enabled. Although this is very much an experimental feature, you can also enable the Origin Chip in the stable build of Chrome.

Bye, bye URL?

canarytop

Above: Canary's Origin Chip. Below: The stable version of Google Chrome.

Once you enable the Origin Chip, Instead of seeing a full, long string of words, letters, and slashes in the address bar—such as "http://www.amazon.com/mobile-apps/b/ref=sa_menu_adr_app?ie=UTF8&node=2350149011"—all you'll see is the root domain itself (such as Amazon.com). You can see the change in the image at right.

In case you couldn't make it out, that longer string is the URL to direct you to Amazon's Appstore for Android. It also makes the case for killing the URL.

The problem with URLs is that they are lengthy, confusing, and often fail to make any obvious sense, as evidenced by that Amazon link. Arguably, it's much simpler for users just to see Amazon.com. That way, you know what site you're on at a glance without having to sort through an extended line of meaningless numbers and letters.

The Origin Chip, if it becomes a regular feature, also has security implications. Phishing scams try to trick unsuspecting users by asking you to visit a site that looks like a common one, hiding behind a URL designed to trick you into thinking you're at the real deal. For example, a Paypal phishing site may have a site name such as Paypal.com-ripoff.ca/secure/login/customer=123456.

Some people would see the long URL and fail to notice that the site was not PayPal at all. Arguably, the new shortened URLs in Canary would help since it would be more obvious that you were visiting Paypal.com-ripoff.ca than PayPal.com itself.

That's assuming, however, that users will actually look at the site address even in its simplified form.

More search

Giving users easier tools to protect themselves against phishing isn't the only reason to simplify the URL: It could also encourage you spend more time doing Google searches.

For starters, to the right of the origin chip is the rest of the Omnibox where you are encouraged to either do another search in Google or enter a new URL.

Many people already get to their favorite sites by searching Google instead of just typing in the web address. It's possible that if the URL became less important, more users would simply use to find sites and specific pages they were looking for.

But Google is not perfect, and every now and then a simple Google search for something innocuous like Facebook.com can end with hilarious results. Or, worse, an innocent search for celebrities like Lily Collins could direct you to a malicious website.

The good news is that while the new feature would hide URLs if it becomes a default feature, advanced users can still find the full URL. All you have to do is click on the Origin Chip and Chrome will expose the complete web address.

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