Clochix who is the author of the post below is a long-time Mozilla supporter devotee. He recently published his concern about the URL bar (original post in French). We thought it was worth reaching a larger audience within Mozilla community.
I really like the Hackasaurus project
. To be an actor of one’s own life and of the life of the city is not something innate, it requires learning. The same is true for our digital life. Becoming an Internet citizen is not innate. Education is essential.
One of the pillars of the Web is its communication protocol, HTTP. HTTP is beautiful for a lot of reasons. One of which is because it puts on the same level the verbs “read” and “write”. The Web is basically a medium of interaction, not consumption. The first four letters at the beginning of URLs are there to remind us how different the medium is.
Are we too stupid?
Unfortunately, the vast majority of Internet users ignore the meaning of URLs. They don’t care about the address bar. The browsers vendors have two options: delete this useless thing, or explain to users for what it is useful. Google clearly chose the former, by merging the address bar and the search bar, and now by ceasing to display the protocol in URLs. Both decisions tend to obfuscate the underlying architecture. Some may argue this is done for the sake of simplicity. But I see another meaning: Internet average users are too stupid, do not waste time explaining them how it works and just delete anything they do not understand.
Sadly, Mozilla is also beginning to follow this way. Bug 665580
has just landed in my nightly build. “Hide http:// and single trailing slashes in the location bar”. Motivation: “This Makes the location bar more user-friendly, Chrome and Opera are already doing it. Can we follow their lead?”. Ok, so Chrome and Opera are doing it and Mozilla must follow the directions they give, so let’s do it cheerfully.
It makes me sad.
I thought Firefox was a different browser, which does not just try to be like the others. A tool aimed at promoting a certain vision of the Web, a vision in which users are involved. This implies understanding what is going on, having basic knowledge of the underlying mechanism, for example to know what are URLs and HTTP. By hiding the URI scheme, I think Firefox is moving away from this goal. Design is not neutral, it serves a goal.
TV screen all over?
In fact, what makes me really sad is that I fear that one day the address bar may disappear. During the development of Firefox 4, with the end of the status bar, the display of the target of a link already disappeared for a few days. The browser interface looks more and more like a TV screen. We are only passive spectators in front of a TV, and I don’t want that future for my browser. With App Tabs, users get used to identify sites with their logo in the favicon. Will the next step of simplification of the interface be to remove the address bar and replace it with only the site’s favicon in an overlay, like a channel logo on TV ? Labs are already experiencing this with Home Dash
and LessChrome HD
. I like these experiments, but wonder what may be their side effects. I think Mozilla is going in the right direction by simplifying the interface and giving more room for content. But this should not come at the expense of other goals of the Foundation. Firefox should also be an educational tool that helps everyday users to take better control of the Web and of their online life. And I fear that some recent decisions are in conflict with this mission.