Is the death of the address bar programmed ?

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.
– Goofy

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.
I was writing this post when I discovered another sad news. For a few days now, we are no more able to write javascript in the address bar. This is the result of Bug 655099. More and more attacks convince users to copy a malicious code in the address bar. Rather than educate Internet citizen, browser vendors are taking them for irresponsible people and delete this feature. I think we don’t go far enough, it might be safer to cut off their hands, to avoid any wrong manipulations! I know the address bar is not the right place to hack JavaScript code, I know that new web developer tools now offer a native JS console. But the use of JavaScript in the address bar was an easy entry point to start hacking web pages. It was the entry point chosen by Hackasaurus for the first mission for people wanting to learn hacking. The mission is now outdated. Sad. Hackasaurus is not specific to Firefox, the missions should be compatible with other browsers, so this one had to be rewritten because other browsers are also in the process of forbidding JavaScript in the address bar. The real problem is not about this specific issue. It is the logic at work behind these decisions that I dislike: under the pretext of securing the Internet, we are gradually removing everything which might hurt the users, we take away from their hands the tools that can probably be dangerous, but also enable them to learn and create. I won’t let a baby alone in a room with a toolbox. But withdrawing the toolbox from the hands of adults is worrying me.
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10 Responses to Is the death of the address bar programmed ?

  1. Anon says:

    What? So no more easily testing bookmarklets and other stuff?
    I am completely devastated by those latest trends which should only be used for tablet/mobile browsers. And what about the power user? The same power users that gave a lot of publicity to Firefox…are they really going to let those down? If they start installing chrome on their relatives’ computers, usage statistics will go down a lot.

    I don’t want Chrome, that’s exactly why I use Firefox. I don’t want a tablet, that’s why I use a PC. They should stop following those poisonous trends.

  2. meh says:

    >I won’t let a baby alone in a room with a toolbox.
    >But withdrawing the toolbox from the hands of adults is worrying me.

    >What? So no more easily testing bookmarklets and other stuff?
    Fortunately there’s Scratchpad instead, but this still sucks

  3. voracity says:

    Bug 665580: Yay!
    Bug 655099: Boo! Hiss!

    My reasoning for supporting 665580 (despite being extremely passionate about the public use and understanding of URLs) is that the browser displays those 7 (or 8 for https) characters 99.99% of the time (and ftp will die one day, making it 99.999999% of the time). This is *not* obeying huffman coding-based design. It *discourages* people from trying to understand URLs, because it just looks like mumbo-jumbo for the sake of it (which it is).

    Unfortunately, a disconnect will occur in future when a person tries to write their first HTML code containing a link. Everyone knows what http:// means today, so they’re not shocked when they see it in HTML code, but fast-forward 10 years and that knowledge will be all but gone. I think the loss of this kind of cultural knowledge is, nonetheless, outweighed by the benefit to public understanding of URLs themselves if the address bar displays something simpler.

    And I’m totally against disabling/hiding the address bar — it might be sexy, but it’s rash, foolish and short-sighted to think that this will “benefit the web overall” for the reasons you describe in your post.

  4. Danny Moules says:

    “>I won’t let a baby alone in a room with a toolbox.
    >But withdrawing the toolbox from the hands of adults is worrying me.”


    @voracity Whilst that may be true for the majority of users, I personally define my own protocols. In addition I use applications such as Spotify, Steam and MSN which use custom protocols. Ten years down the line, these helpers might not exist.. because the only reason they exist now is they’re available to everyone. And nobody will notice.. and nobody will care. But they’ll still be missing something they could have had.

    • voracity says:

      @Danny Moules: (Keeping in mind I’m *only* talking about http:// hiding.) What is it that they’ve lost?

      My *sole* concern is that *everyone* should find it easy to transition from using the web to hacking the web. This is why I think the decision to disable javascript: URLs is so appalling. It’s a knee-jerk reaction to a temporary (and extraordinarily minor in terms of percentage affected users) problem that treats people as if they will stay babies forever.

  5. Jake says:

    I completely agree – Firefox is going down the wrong road here. Firefox is the only browser left for power users and web developers (Chrome is just getting too simple, and Opera…they don’t even show URL query params anymore). With all these changes, it’s not helping much – there are smart people that use Firefox, too.

  6. besr says:

    If the adressbar is droped, i drop firefox and recomend droping also, so easy like that

  7. You write

    “Unfortunately, the vast majority of Internet users ignore the meaning of URLs.”

    Yes, this is true. Because for the most part, they’re a cryptic mess that users just don’t care about. They mean nothing to them because often they’re not meant to mean anything to puny humans. Not even to power users. I would consider myself a power user and I’ve stopped paying attention to them. The only time I personally interact with them is when I copy and paste them into an email or IRC client, and even that is tedious.

    If you ask me, URLs are one of the biggest UX disasters of the web right now. In my view, Facebook’s success largely lies in the fact that they’ve made a web that works without URLs and email addresses. I can send messages, share pictures, videos, other web pages, etc. without ever encountering those cryptic things. This is how the whole web should work. javascript URLs and all that are such an edge case, they’re not even worth considering. The hackability of the web will not be defended by keeping the address bar around.

    Should we kill off the address bar? By all means, yes. But we must first allow users to enter relationships with other websites more easily through the browser. This is coming, of course, thanks to open web apps, sharing, identity, etc.

  8. WouterVH says:

    You can toggle on/off the addressbar for ages . So I don’t understand the discussion at all.

    >In my view, Facebook’s success largely lies in the fact that they’ve made a web that
    > works without URLs and email addresses.
    How do you know a page is a really page from Facebook? Because it looks like a Facebook-page? Because you clicked on some obfuscated that claims to link to Facebook?

    >“Unfortunately, the vast majority of Internet users ignore the meaning of URLs.”
    Those same users log in onto fake facebook-login-screens to get their passwords stolen.

    Killing off the address-bar in browsers, is similar to dropping all spam-fighting tools
    just because users like to win Millions of $$$ in a Nigerian Lottery.

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