Google, having removed the age-old, comfortable-like-an-old-pair-of-socks http:// from the beginning of URLs in Chrome’s address bar, is now trialing an even more drastic move: Killing off the URL entirely. In a new version of Chrome, the full URL vanishes from the address bar, instead replaced by an always-present “Search Google” box. This is obviously a play to drive more search traffic — but, as much as it pains me to say it, it’s probably a very good way of helping most users avoid phishing attacks. Plus, let’s be honest, isn’t the URL an antiquated vestigial stump from the olden days of the World Wide Web that’s ripe for axing anyway?
This change, internally dubbed the “origin chip” is being tested in Chrome 36. The current stable build of Chrome is version 34. Like Firefox, Chrome has a rolling six-week release schedule. Version 35 should be released in the third week of May, with version 36 coming in the first week of July. The origin chip — the killing of the URL — may make it into version 36, or it may not. Commenting at Hacker News, one Chrome developer says they’re currently looking at “a few key metrics to see if this change is a net positive for Chrome users.”
Chrome address bar, before and after the URL-killing ‘origin token’. Chrome 36 top, Chrome 38 bottom.
Given Chrome’s history with the humble URL, though, I fully expect Google to push ahead with the change. As you may remember, when Chrome first came out, the address bar was just an address bar. You could prefix addresses with ? to search Google, but otherwise your input was treated as a literal URL. Later, it became the true Omnibox, where unless you specifically entered a full URL, it triggered a Google search. More recently, Chrome has started graying out the URL after the domain name (a nice change designed to help users focus on the domain, to prevent phishing attacks). And now this, which removes the URL entirely, leaving just the domain name.
In terms of usability, the new origin chip is actually quite nice. If you click the chip, the full URL is displayed (with a slick little animation) and selected — just like if you click inside the address bar in the current version of Chrome. You can also still click in the address bar and use Ctrl-L to select the full URL (it triggers the same cutesy animation). Basically, if you know what you’re doing — if you know that the origin chip is a button — then the change isn’t all that bad. The problem, of course, is that most users probably won’t realize that it’s a button. Likewise, while there’s a config option for power users who prefer to always see the URL – chrome://flags/#origin-chip-in-omnibox – it isn’t something that your mom or pop would change.
Chrome LogoNow, on the one hand it’s a good idea to put the domain name front and center. One of the most common attack vectors for malware, hacking, and identity theft is through phishing, where users are tricked into visiting a fake website (their bank, Apple, Blizzard, etc.) that looks like the real deal. These fake websites often have ludicrous domains, and Chrome’s origin token will make them a lot easier to spot. On the other hand, this is clearly a great way to drive lots more search traffic to Google.
Google has merely spotted this trend, and probably just recognizes the slow death of the URL as a prime chance to drive more search traffic. Seems like a pretty savvy move to me.