Chrome obfuscates the URLs, Google benefits

Chrome Canary introduced a new feature which obfuscates the website’s URL.

A member of the Chrome team mentions that “the whole point is to prevent phishing”.

Here’s a screenshot from Canary in which the feature is enabled: Chrome Canary and its URL hiding feature

You’re viewing a specific blog post, but you wouldn’t know it.

The only way to get the URL is to click on the domain name. When you hover over it you get a hint that it’s clickable, but otherwise it’s not obvious.

Accessing the URL in Chrome Canary

Clicking the omnibar hides the domain name entirely and prompts you to search for a phrase or enter another URL.

So who benefits from this?

It’s not the people using the browser; it’s the search engine makers and big social networks. The ones so well-established that people willingly put their share buttons on their own websites.

Let me repeat that: the parties benefitting from this change are the search engine vendors and big, monolithic social networks that strive to create walled gardens.

If this approach becomes the default, people visiting sites will be unaware of where they are. To share interesting things on the web they will have to use the actions provided by the site maker. Often these are reduced to sharing on Twitter and Facebook. Gone are the days when people were provided with more than a handful of options. Any new players on the market, any new bookmarking and sharing tools will simply not stand a chance, as only their size will affect adoption of their own sharing buttons.

A huge slew of sharing and bookmarking tools

Beyond options provided by each individual site creator sharing will be limited to power users and those who understand what URLs are (and how to find them). That group will get progressively smaller, as URLs become unfamiliar and rarely encountered in their full form.

Marketing campaigns already frequently suggest searching for a specific phrase instead (or alongside) providing a URL. If you can’t simply point to a URL, then you have to maintain first position in search results in all dominant search engines to help people find your site. The search engine becomes the necessary—and only—mediator of this interaction, a buffer zone, a lobby, with total control over who gets to access to the thing you made. It’s no surprise really that it was the Google Chrome team who came up with this.

There’s been much debate about whether the URLs are ‘ugly’ or ‘beautiful’ and whether people really understand them. This debate misses the point.

The URLs are the cornerstone of the interconnected, decentralised web. Removing the URLs from the browser is an attempt to expand and consolidate centralised power.

If you really care about usability, there are better ways of highlighting the domain without obfuscating the URL entirely. As Josh Emerson points out, IE has been doing this for a while:

IE already highlights te domain part of the URL

This the solution that Remy Sharp is proposing. Highlight the key part of the URL and truncate the rest if necessary, but keep it visible, helping the person viewing the site to see where they really are.