UX Magazine Proposes Getting Rid of URLs in Browsers, Public Outcry Ensues

By on September 15, 2010

One of the most well-respected Usability publications on the web, UX Magazine recently made an affront against the URL bar. The article author, Devin Coldewey illustrates a bold proposal for replacing URLs with website navigation.

The article sparked a lot of intrigue and caught a bit of heat. In this post I’ll share my take and observations on the matter.

Replacing Your Location Bar

The proposed system would move URL data to a standardized meta tag within website code, which would look something like this:

<nav order=”1″>http://www.amazon.com/</nav>

And could generate breadcrumb-style navigation and other dynamic data as shown in this example:

The idea is intriguing and would definitely be beneficial to users navigating websites internally. It could even spark the rise of some new unified layer of the web for website navigation. Though I doubt it will be seen in your browser anytime soon.

Public Speaks Out In Defense of URLs

What I would like you to take away from this post is that  domain names and URLs are a much needed, useful and valuable part of both the infrastructure of the web and the browsing experience.

The proposal sparked a lot of conversation and positive remarks, though many more people opened up to respectfully disagree.

I’d like to share these interesting quotes from public comments in response to the UX Magazine article.

The URL…is the single greatest innovation of the web. A simple string can pass through literally any human communication system. Speech, print, text messaging, anything. – neilk

…the URL bar, if used properly by the website, can be extremely useful. – Sunny Singh

There is also the matter of phishing which a transparent URL scheme, and better user awareness, can help in. We don’t want to hide the URL. – Paul M. Watson

They’re simple strings. You can bookmark them, copy them and send them to people. – []

The URL bar has a useful, standardized, documented purpose. Please don’t try to turn a hammer into a screwdriver. – Bernadette

URLs are the definitive indication of location on the net, and any obfuscation of them would be detrimental to location awareness. – telic

URLs are brilliant because they are separate from navigation; that’s a feature, not a bug. – neilk

The Url is the foundation of the hyperlink, and the hyperlink is the innovation that glues the entire WWW together. – brc

How About a Compromise?

A few other commentators and another UX Magazine author proposed adding dynamic functionality to the URL itself.

The example given is that sub-folders could be clickable and function as alternate means of navigation. I think this is a better concept. A useful Firefox plugin called Locationbar2 (shown left) is already moving in that direction.

In fact, I wouldn’t mind having the full unified navigation, so long as it was placed below my URL bar.

Ultimately, the responsibility lies with the website owner to optimize their domain name, URLs and navigation.

What side of the fence are you on? Do you think browser developers should change how we browse the web or will URLs be the standard for years to come? I’m interested to read your comments.

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About Mark Fulton

Mark is the Founder of DotSauce Magazine and a full time web developer, domain investor, SEO and online marketing professional residing in North Carolina, USA. Visit MarkFulton.com for information on freelance website development, SEO and consultation services.