The death of the URL

The red pill, or blue pill

Prelude

You take the blue pill and the story ends. You wake in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill and you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes. Remember — all I am offering is the truth, nothing more.

In the Matrix, Morpheus presents Neo with a choice: he can take the blue pill and continue his somnambulatory existence within the Matrix, or he can take the red pill and become free from the virtual reality that the machines created to enslave humanity.

As you can see from the clip above, Neo chooses the red pill, severing his connection to the Matrix and regaining his free will.

Everyday, when you fire up your browser and type in some arbitrary URL in the browser’s address bar, you are taking the red pill.

Address Bar

Increasingly though, I see signs that the essential freedoms of the web are being undermined by a cadre of companies through the introduction of new technologies and interfaces that, combined, may spell the death of the URL.

Call me crazy, but it seems obvious enough when you put on the right colored paranoia goggles.

Exhibit A: Web TV

Web TV

There’s an article in Friday’s USA Today suggesting that we’re finally at a point where web TV has a chance. But there’s an insidious underbelly to this story. Specifically: Consumers may balk if TV sets become too computerlike and complicated.

From the article:

Manufacturers say they learned an important lesson from earlier convergence failures: Viewers want to relate to sets as televisions, not computers.

That’s why the new Web TV models don’t come with browsers that would give people the freedom to surf the full Internet, even though the TVs connect to the Web via an ethernet cable or home wireless network. The companies want to promote consumer acceptance of Web TV by making the technology simple to use: That means no keyboard or mouse.

It’s just Step 1: Engineers are talking about changes that would make it easy to navigate the Internet. One thought is to program smartphones so they can change channels, send text messages to the set and move a cursor around the screen with the motion-sensitive technology that Nintendo uses with its Wii game system.

For now, though, people just need the TV remote control to select and launch prepackaged applications.

Emphasis mine.

In a twist of McLuhanesque determinism, it would appear that the apparatus and determinism of the television experience will overrule the freedom and flexibility of the web — because, well, frankly — all that choice…! It’s so… unseemly and unmonetizable.

Instead, Web TV will be made easier to use by removing the best parts of the web and augmenting the straightjacket features of the television.

Exhibit B: Litl, ChromeOS, JoliCloud, and Apple Tablet

Litl

I somewhat serendipitously stumbled upon Litl — a little design project of famous design firm Pentagram.

The thing is cool, I admit. The netbook/webbook market needs some design thinking. And heck, I’m as eager as anyone to see what Apple is going to do in this space, so I’m watching it closely… but something tells me that the next generation “PC” devices are going to revolve around slicker, streamlined interfaces that come pre-packaged with fewer choices drawn from a set of likely suspects (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, Google, Yahoo et al.).

Taking a look at the JoliCloud homescreen… you can start to see how this will be the next Firefox search box in terms of monetization:

JoliCloud

Though I imagine you’ll be able to set custom options here, it’s the defaults that matter.

…and these homescreens become yet another funnel to drive users to a predetermined (and paid for) set of options.

Exhibit C: Top Sites

Top Sites

Similar to the netbook homescreens, both Safari and Chrome provide home pages that show you thumbnails of the sites that you visit most often (coincidence? I think not!).

Seems an innocuous feature. I mean, isn’t it easier to just click a picture of where you want to go rather than typing in some awkward string that starts with HTTP into the address bar?

AH HA! So, you’d take the blue pill eh?

See the problem?

Just as browsers currently come with a set of default bookmarks today, there’s no reason why the next generation browsers won’t come with their own predefined set of “Top Sites”, that, not unlikely, will come from the same list of predetermined companies that populate the home screens of the next gen Net/Web Books.

The more that the browser address bar can be made obsolete, the more it becomes just like TV, right?

Exhibit D: Warning interstitials and short URL frames

Facebook | Leaving Facebook...

If you use Facebook, you’ve probably seen the above warning before — usually after clicking a link that a friend sent you. Now, I recognize why they do this. It’s true: on the internet, thar be dragons!

Now, nevermind the dragons on Facebook proper — this innocuous little screen was designed, one assumes, to keep you safe from things outside the Facebook universe. However, the net effect of seeing this page every time you click an outbound link is fatigue. You get worn down by having to click through this page until finally, after a while, you just give up and stop clicking links from your friends altogether. It just could be that a momentary delay like this is enough to change your behavior completely.

Even when you do decide to leave, Facebook comes with you — inserting 45 pixels of itself into your experience as a top frame:

Facebook | External link frame

This make it easier to get back to Facebook, and never skip a beat. But it also removes the need to visit the address bar and think about where you want to go next (let alone type it out). Of course Facebook isn’t the only service doing this — Digg and countless other short URL generators intrude on your web experience and put yet more distance between you and the address bar.

All these little hindrances add up — and if you’ve done any usability work — you know that the smallest changes can lead to huge impacts over time if the changes are so slight as to be essentially unnoticeable.

Exhibit E: The NASCAR

bragster sign in form

Now, this one hits close to home, y’know, since this is what I’ve been working on for the past year or so… but the reality is that more and more, companies are moving to accept this logo-splattered approach to user sign in forms — “the NASCAR” — which dispatches the uncomfortable “URL-based” metaphor of OpenID altogether.

Why?

Because it’s too “complicated“. People don’t get “URLs” for sign in.

Now, we’ve made progress moving forward with “email-style identifiers” for use in OpenID transactions, but we’re not there yet, and we’re not moving fast enough either.

The specter of the Facebook Connect button is ever-present, and, from a UI perspective, it’s hard to argue with one button to rule them all (even if it destroys individual autonomy in the process — hey! freedom is messy! Let’s scrap it!).

The NASCAR, then, is just one more way to put off teaching users to recognize that URLs can represent people too, chaining us to the silos and locking us into brand-mediated identities for yet another generation.

Exhibit F: App Stores

Apps for iPhone

Finally, there’s been plenty written about this already, but what is the App Store except a cleaved out and sanitized portion of the web? In fact, people accustomed to the freedom and “flow” of the web go into anaphylactic shock when they realize that they must submit to the slings and arrows of the outrageous fortune of Steve Jobs when they want their iPhone app to show up in the Apple app store.

And it’s only going to get worse, because now everyone wants a goddamn app store.

Thanks a lot, Steve.

The rise of the “app store mentality” is a direct attack on the web, and on the very nature of free discovery and choice built upon URL-based hyperlinks. By depriving us the ability to pick and choose which “stores” we shop from on these devices — we’re empowering a new breed of middle men and ceding to them monopoly control over our digital experience. The architecture of the web was intended to withstand such threats — but that all changes when the hardware makers get into the content business! Even though developers are beginning to see the dark side of this faustian bargain, the momentum is huge — and big business smells money.

By removing our ability to navigate, choose, and share freely — these app stores are exchanging our freedom for a promise that they’ll keep us safe, give us everything we need, and do all the choosing of what’s “good enough” for us — all starting at ninety-nine cents a hit.

No doubt this model will be emulated and copied — across all platforms — until the last vestige of the URL is patched over and removed… the last reminder of an uncomfortable and much messier era of history.

Epilogue

I don’t know about you, but a future without URLs and without the infinite organicity of the web frightens me. It’s not that I know what we’ll lose by removing this artifact of one of the most generative periods in history — and that’s exactly the point! The URL and the ability for anyone to mint a new one and then propagate it is what makes the web so resilient, so empowering, and so interesting! That I don’t need to ask anyone permission to create a new website or webpage is a kind of ideological freedom that few generations in history have known!

Now, granted, there is still much work to be done to spread the power and privilege of the web, but what I don’t want to see happen in the meantime is the next generation of kids grow up with an “easier” laptop, Web Top, Net Book, Nook, or whatever the hell they’re going to call it — that lacks an address bar. I don’t want the next generation to grow up with TV-stupid controls and a set of predefined widgets that determine the totality and richness of their experience on a mere subset of the web! That future cannot be permitted!

Maybe I’m wrong or just paranoid, and maybe the web has won, forever. But I’m not willing to rest on my laurels. No way.

We all know that the internet has won as the transport medium for all data — but the universal interface for interacting with the web? — well, that battle is just now getting underway.

As a user experience designer, it’s on my discipline and peers to provide the right kind of ideas and leadership. If we get the design right, we can empower while clarifying; we can reduce complexity while enhancing functionality; we can expand freedom while not overwhelming with choice. Surely these are the things that good, thoughtful user experience design can achieve!

Well, friends, I’ve said my piece. Whether this threat is real or imagined, it’s one that I believe bears inspection.

Like Neo, if I were forced to choose between all the messiness of free will over the “comfortability” of a contrived existence, I’d choose the red pill, time and time again. And I hope you would too.

53 Comments

  1. Joe said
    at 1pm on Nov 16th # |

    I know this wasn’t your point, but it’s interesting that this sounds like a command line vs. GUI argument. (At least a little maybe?)

    At first you interacted with computers only with a terminal. Type in your command and hit enter. Now you point to an icon and click. Now there is a middle man (software vendor) between your CPU and you telling you what you can and can’t do. Want more functionality form your computer? Pay more money to another middleman.

    At first you interacted with the internet only with a browser. Type in the url and hit enter. Now you point to an icon and click. Now there is a middle man (hardware vendor) between the internet and you telling you where you can and can’t go. Want more functionality form the internet? Pay more money to another middleman.

  2. at 1pm on Nov 16th # |

    Very interesting post. I recently switched from having a TV to a having a Mac Mini with a large monitor. It’s annoying to have to pull out a laptop (or keyboard and mouse) every time I want to control the TV… and by TV, I mean Hulu and iTunes.

    Like you, I dislike limiting the user for the sake of simplicity. Maybe instead of creating dumbed-down UIs, we should be making better devices for controlling computers from a distance?

  3. at 1pm on Nov 16th # |

    I think unfortunately, URLs have already become a “power user” feature. A large number of internet users (moms, grandparents, etc.) seem to have no idea what they are and never use them, instead resorting to the pre-packaged “e-mail this page” and “share on XXXXX” links. The way Twitter and Facebook and (functionally) most e-mail programs refuse to let one hide a URL behind a piece of readable text as what HTML’s original intention (and the ensuing link-shortening boom) hasn’t helped anything.

    So I’m not sure how much of the Death of the URL is Corporate Conspiracy, and how much of it is Consumer Complacence, but I agree it’s coming. And so is the Death of Email. Soon we’ll all be locked in to proprietary Facebook and eBay and … whoever, messaging systems. Or so it seems sometimes.

  4. Zach said
    at 1pm on Nov 16th # |

    Very provocative. Do you think there is a way to reconcile manageable distribution with open distribution? Perhaps websites could emit some meta tag that spiders could index (or the site could push) to build “open web” app stores. URLs would still work, though they’d still be deemphasized. Hmm. Still, from programming languages to operating systems, having repositories to readily pull resources from has been a Good Thing. Though when they fail, the URL is there to save the day.

  5. alevin said
    at 1pm on Nov 16th # |

    There are also some very large business opportunities. If you sell hardware, or advertising, or consumer goods, then it is in your interest to have low-cost distribution platforms.

    One way to get there is old-style distribution deals. The new way to get there is supporting ultra-friendly, yet standards based and open source platforms.

    There are funding sources and business models for it, but someone has to do it. And it means that the customers for the tools need to be thought of as people who use them for personal and social use, not just fellow geeks.

  6. alevin said
    at 1pm on Nov 16th # |

    And I strongly suspect there are other opportunities on the user identity side as well, addressing markets that are underserved or anti-served by organizations becoming sharecroppers of their customer base.

    It’s good that you, Tim, and others are raising the alarm. The way out of the box is to find the business opportunities where Open has business advantage, in addition to supporting Free as in Freedome.

  7. Ish Harshawat said
    at 2pm on Nov 16th # |

    One of the interesting things that might prevent the death of the URL is the increase of URL sharing through sites like Twitter and Facebook. For all its usability issues the URL has proven an effective way to share information on the Internet. The recent popularity of URL-shortening services shows this. Simply stated a url is the most cross-platform way to share a web site with someone. It works across SMS, email, blog comments,whatever.

    Even the App Store provides a way to deep link into any app via none other than an HTTP url. Thats how one person recommends another app to someone else. If they made the URLs more vanity-friendly that would be even better.

    On the other hand, as a person that is trying to create new web and mobile products, its getting increasingly frustrating for me to find good URLs that are intuitive enough for users to remember. So is the URL actually limiting growth of the web?

  8. Anonymous said
    at 2pm on Nov 16th # |

    Great post.

    While reading this, comparisons between the carefully-controlled environment of Apple’s OSX and OSes like Windows and Linux which offer more control for the user kept popping up in my head.

  9. nicerobot said
    at 2pm on Nov 16th # |

    NOT! The point ignored in the article is that, with the exception of the Facebook URL blocking, EVERYTHING else is using URLs to access those services. And the reason those services even exist is because of the Web and its URLs.

    Of course, for some users and services, URLs aren’t friendly or not practical, so it makes perfect sense that they’ll be hidden. But for others, they’re fine and they will never be hidden.

  10. at 3pm on Nov 16th # |

    There’s lot’s of talk here of the pressures towards closed, restricted experiences for the user. There is one rather large pressure I can think of pulling in the other direction, google. This is the number one destination for web users (ok, so there’s bing etc.), people are hooked on that open access to information. And it’s more than the information, it’s the variety of sources for that information. There’s also the personal element, people enjoy visiting sites that are created by amateurs they can associate with rather than another faceless organisations. So long as people want these things they will use search, and as long as there’s search there will be urls.

  11. Carl Youngblood said
    at 4pm on Nov 16th # |

    Reports of the URL’s death have been greatly exaggerated. What I think you’re really pointing out is that the types of experiences available to end users are becoming more diverse. Some people will opt for more control and some will opt for more convenience. The types of experiences we end up with will depend on how many people prefer them and which ones gain critical mass. But the eco-system is diverse enough that I believe it can accommodate many different types of experiences without most of them going totally extinct.

  12. kim said
    at 4pm on Nov 16th # |

    Chris, you make a lot of good points in this article. I have really despaired not just about the dumbing down of the web, but of the nation as a whole.

    But as far as the internet goes, I think there is one advantage. Even though more and more non-technical people get on-line all the time, and have probably even surpassed the techno-geeks in numbers, the geeks will always be a strong, large body involved in the technology. And if big business starts dumbing things down too much for those with a more technical bent, I’m sure we will see an “underground internet” develop for those who really want it. The geeks, the hackers out there know how to do it, and will make it happen. Think about all the bboards of the 90’s. Though now, they wouldn’t have to have a bunch of disconnected systems; it could still be a coherent net, with geek savvy the “price” for getting in and being able to navigate, as it were.

    The only question will be how useful and relevant such an underground would be. I think it could be very useful. Even now, the noise-to-signal ratio on the net is getting high, and I only expect it to get worse as things get “dumbed down” further, and big business takes over more and more.

  13. at 4pm on Nov 16th # |

    I first used the web before there were any search engines (or at least before they had any respectable indexes). There was a list of interesting websites on the computer lab wall and finding interesting things on the web was almost like a game. When Yahoo came along (with URL http://www.stanford.edu/akebono/ :-) you could have made the same argument: search spells the death of the URL!

    Commercial interests still seem sold on URLs. Ads for everything from cars to movies show a domain name or even a URI. And while your mom may not understand how URLs work, I think she’ll still be capable of following instructions like “Click here to see pictures of your grandkids from this weekend.”

    Using my landline, I can call anyone in my metro area. There are surely thousands of interesting people I can talk to for hours, all for free. But mostly I call people who’ve given me their number or businesses who print it on their web page. The freedom’s still there, but the network effect rules my behavior.

  14. at 4pm on Nov 16th # |

    I think that IP’s addresses look more like a red pill than the fancy url’s

  15. Bobbie said
    at 5pm on Nov 16th # |

    I see where you’re coming from (there are, after all, security risks in not knowing or checking URLs) but for many people, Googling for the domain long ago supplanted typing in the address itself.

    In fact, even as a power user (relatively speaking) most of the time I don’t type URLs of my favourite sites because the browser bar predicts where I want to go based on previous behaviour. But speed dial doesn’t kill our ability to make phone calls, it just makes it faster to reach the people we care about.

    And, last point: URLs are only fancy ways of looking at IP addresses. Should we turn the clock back on that one because it’s a purer representation of a site’s identity?

  16. at 5pm on Nov 16th # |

    It is more likely that URLs will disappear because someone really gets the semantic web right. We won’t be getting shut out of a deeper experience. But we won’t be using URLs because it will be more straight-forward to find needles in haystacks using algorithms rather than long strings in an address bar.

  17. turn.self.off said
    at 5pm on Nov 16th # |

    http://futureoftheinternet.org/

  18. at 6pm on Nov 16th # |

    Hey Chris, Another datapoint: QR Code for mobile devices. Ubiquitous in Japan. I predict you’ll see lots of print edit and ads that will include them to tie-into the phones people are holding in their hands while reading.

  19. Kevin Smith said
    at 6pm on Nov 16th # |

    As long as people can communicate, share and get the things done they want to, who cares if there is a URL. What’s sad is all the time you spent on this crap.

    It’s the same old story. Your generation has it easy, bla bla bla (and i was born in the early 70’s in case you were wondering).

    What if someone back in the 1700’s started some movement against anything but horse travel. I guess there would be no cars, trains, planes, etc. Oh but wait, I don’t want anyone to be able to fly somewhere quickly. I had to ride a horse for 3 weeks with a chapped ass – so you need to as well.

    TV? What’s that? When we were kids, we had to play with rocks and sticks and use our imagination to entertain ourselves. So I don’t want you to have it any easier either.

    As they say on ESPN Monday Night Football – “Come On Man…”

  20. fjpoblam said
    at 6pm on Nov 16th # |

    The URL *may* not be necessary or even desired by some or even many computer users due to the funneling world of apps and computers.

    I consider this debatable… but to go on:

    URLs will *still* be required by the *DEVELOPERS* of apps and those OSs that so carefully funnel the end-users of computers toward those selected destinations. Websites will still exist. At addresses. URLs.

  21. mh said
    at 6pm on Nov 16th # |

    By “death of the URL,” you really mean “success of service providers” where a service would be the YouTube, flickr, last.fm, or Skype of the world. Seeing these services, or the way they’re surfaced on non-PC devices, as “the web” is as closed as viewing “the web” as the internet as a whole.

    The fact that their home is on the web, and their data accessed through web APIs and transport layers, just ignores the fact that middle-tier consumer devices are expanding in functionality, and rather than throwing users to the web and saying “here, figure it out” or making their own proprietary locked-in service.

    Complaining about the tyranny of content networks and device makers says more about the state of where content is, not how to make content more open and interoperable.

  22. at 7pm on Nov 16th # |

    This is just the latest iteration of attempting to control the on-ramp to the web, first done by AOL more than a decade ago. There was another non-AOL effort to sell keywords in web browsers so companies would be able to advertise something as simple as “type TRAVEL in your web browser” Can’t recall the name of the company trying to sell that. Bottom line – this is old news.

  23. alevin said
    at 7pm on Nov 16th # |

    Some of the comments here are confusing URL as primary interface, and the ability to access links.

    It is great to offer search and other means of navigation. That’s not the the problem. The problem comes when you can’t get to the link at all. If you can’t get to a link, you can’t link, bookmark, find again, or any one of the many remix actions we expect from the basic building block of the web.

  24. Clement Munns said
    at 8pm on Nov 16th # |

    Others have noted the semantic web; if the people creating the $_GET
    variable gibberish of DB based URLs understood findability and used
    mod_rewrite more elegantly, the URL would never seem scary and too
    technical.

  25. at 8pm on Nov 16th # |

    Good thoughts Chris, and eloquently put. One angle to consider is the balance Jonathan Zittrain calls for between “generative” and “tethered” applications. I totally agree that tethered applications pose a stark threat to innovation and freedom online, but there are other issues besides UX that must be dealt with. Check it out:

    http://futureoftheinternet.org/

  26. Nate O said
    at 10pm on Nov 16th # |

    I agree with you about App stores, but I think the URL will continue to serve an important role in many communities..

    Also today on techmeme: http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/how_blogging_has_changed_over_the_last_three_years.php (Shows one relevant trend: commenting on stories is often moving off site to social networks that are linking back to a post.) The URL is the important part of this process, allowing anybody to point to something and talk about it amongst their friends.

  27. Apreche said
    at 4am on Nov 17th # |

    It doesn’t matter. The people who will use this kind of thing don’t care. People like us will plug computers into our televisions, and use things like Boxee that allow you to write more apps instead of just being given the apps someone else decides to make.

  28. at 5am on Nov 17th # |

    Marketeers have been trying to kill URLs since the web got popular. First, http:// went, then the www’s, so that domain.com just became common parlance and browsers had to recognise this.

    Many media and platform owners will always try to control where the user goes. When Murdoch delists all his sites on Google, a world where the URL dies and the web gets delivered through his platform, the happer he’ll be.

    From my part, its Mac Mini, EyeTV and the AirMouse iPhone App. I just need Apple to add infrared to my iphone and Sony to write an App for a remote control, and then I’m sorted…

  29. at 5am on Nov 17th # |

    This remind me a talk about the possible death of the *internet*: http://www.fdn.fr/internet-libre-ou-minitel-2.html (french). The point of the talk is to warn us about the centralization of the web, which could eventually lead to the replacement of the internet by something easier, safer, more sanitized and more controlled —in other words, less free. Of course, such an environment don’t need to expose the consumer to the URL. Its disappearance is but an aspect of centralization. Others are:

    The language around “cloud computing”. Extremely effective at making centralization trendy. While having your data “in the cloud” may sound cool, it merely means that it is in the hands of some company. This is both extremely convenient and extremely dangerous: you trust this company with your data, which is often private.

    Web mail. This is an example of “cloud computing”. At the begining of the internet, when you sent a mail, it went directly from your machine, to the recipient’s machine. E-mail was just as private as physical mail. Now, you don’t know own the gmail.com machine, do you? So much for your privacy.

    Shared hosting. Another example of “cloud computing”. At the begining of the internet, when you wanted to publish content, it was hosted on your machine with a suitable web server. *You* have decided to release it. *You* can remove it if appropriate. When you publish on Blogger or YouTube, you don’t decide. Google does. So much for your freedom of speech.

    The “A” in ADSL. I bet you have an asymmetric bandwidth. That means you can easily read, view, and listen to content, while publishing is harder. Sending a few megabytes in an e-mail takes minutes. Distributed file sharing is limited by available upload. Self hosting is nearly impossible. To me, that sounds more like an interactive TV than the internet.

  30. at 7am on Nov 17th # |

    Defenders of the URL must read: Jeremy Keith’s eloquent and inspiring article from 2006, “In Praise of the Hyperlink.” http://adactio.com/articles/1132/

  31. Ric said
    at 8am on Nov 17th # |

    The last one under App Stores is the worst of the bunch because if anyone else sees the correlation between that entity and the RIAA/MPAA content model raise your hand! Apple has lost all of my business for all time with their eager ushering in of this closed, arbitrarily censored system. I was never a apple hater until they did their part to lure consumers in with great hardware on a old school broke azz content system. Unfortunately, the rest of the lemmings like to follow suite.

  32. at 8am on Nov 17th # |

    RE: Zane Selvans comment on Nov 16: Corporate Conspiracy depends upon Consumer Complacency. Much like Political Graft depends upon Voter Apathy for its very life.

  33. Joe Clark said
    at 11am on Nov 17th # |

    I really don’t agree with any of this. Additionally, I tire of old wives’ tales of old wives who don’t know what an address bar is, something curable by having a grandchild point to it and utter a single sentence of explanation.

  34. at 3pm on Nov 17th # |

    The issues you raise are trends I’ve been considering myself. They’re trends with which I’m a bit uncomfortable. Because of brand loyalty (sometimes at a vicious level), inattention, or not critically examining these events and issues, the result is the same: it’s going to happen and keep happening. It’s not going to be Apple, Microsoft, Twitter, Facebook, or some other fanatically adopted fad. I’ve seen the future. It’s Google that will control how we communicate, the flow of information, and validate our realities. When you apparently empower the average user of the internet to feel as if s/he is control, s/he forgets from whom this ability and power is actually controlled.

  35. Frank Goertzen said
    at 3pm on Nov 17th # |

    I hope so this is my running prediction on the standard.

    Another benefit of this being the end of domain name squatting scum and other bottom sucking scum of the internet.

    http://www.thestandard.com/predictions/suggestions/domain-name-market-crash-2010

  36. Stephen van Egmond said
    at 9am on Nov 18th # |

    This seems like overblowing the situation.

    OpenID can just as easily use mailto: as http:// as a login identifier.

    Usability research shows people don’t like, enjoy, appreciate, or understand URL’s, so many applications are better off hiding them. And why not?

    So they end up being an implementation detail like cookies and content-encoding. So what?

  37. at 10am on Nov 18th # |

    It sounds like you want what AOL had done back in the mid-nineties — where access to websites were nothing more than buttons on a home screen and keywords.

    You used TV or webTV as an example, but I think that is a case for the URL actually — Our TV sets today are limited to just a few channels, and for unique programming to exist it has to live within one of those channels, unfortunately — because it’s the only access point to the content. The channel has the control, as opposed to the author and the authors ability to be independent of the channel.

    The emergence of the permalink really is what makes a URL most valuable. For a single piece of content to exist online without mass-popularity and with complete independence.

  38. Dave said
    at 1am on Nov 19th # |

    And to think at one time I thought of Bill Gates as the anticrist because of microsofts blatant profiteering. Now Steve Jobs Orwellian approach makes me realize he wasn’t so bad.

    Apple has gotten a pass on this because for so long they were downtrodden by Microsoft. I thinks its time to see this company for what it is. A limiter of internet freedom for the sake of profit. Remember, the devil will come in a 3 peice suit or this case a shiny alluminum unibody.

  39. Djerba said
    at 10am on Nov 20th # |

    Nice article !Yes :)
    APIs, Mashups, Microformats and interactive applications are more user friendly and bring many new nice features.
    Twitter is reducing and masking URLs using bit.ly or tinyurl… Many internet users don’t know anything about Google maps, and they may find some custom maps embedded on a travel guide or directory. Do they have to type maps.google.com … ?

    Net users become lazy.
    so we can say URLs are already dead !

  40. Kick said
    at 2pm on Nov 20th # |

    Nice post, but do not underestimate the “voice dimension” I want to talk to my screen and tell him where to go. No need for buttons i I can just tell where to go..

  41. Dathan said
    at 7pm on Nov 22nd # |

    So you listed things that circumvent dialing it up – URLs are human readable for a good reason.

  42. progr said
    at 7am on Nov 24th # |

    The “app store mentality” isn’t an attack to the web. The Apple App Store doesn’t remove your ability to navigate, choose and share freely. You can access the store, navigate it, choose the application you want and spread to the world your choice with a nifty URL to itunes.com. There are plenty of sites that gravitate around the store.

    The Apple App Store is just a store and when you choose something in that store you know that the app you are purchasing has been tested, approved and that it hopefully doesn’t damage your iPhone/iPod Touch experience.

    The App Store is a good thing trust me. It has its shadows but it’s the first time in computer history that indie developers can sell their apps together with multinational corporations and effectively make some money (a lot of money in some rare cases).

  43. at 8am on Nov 25th # |

    Great article, but I’m not sure I agree with your conclusion. From a usability point of view, simplifying and even eradicating the URL is surely a good thing? For most people it’s unsightly, complicated, and just plain clumsy. Sure it’s powerful if you know what you’re doing, but I reckon it’s inevitable that we’ll soon move away from using URLs at all, just relying on links and searches instead.

    In fact, I’ve written a whole article in response to yours: http://www.matthewdawkins.co.uk/the-death-of-the-url.html

    But thanks for your article, it’s certainly thought-provoking!

  44. Mark Essel said
    at 3pm on Nov 28th # |

    It’s no coincidence that you chose my favorite movie to convey a message Chris. Our world is full of followers and leaders, and sadly not every person is ready or willing to find and own their own content (get unplugged).

    The folks who agree with your fears don’t necessarily need the warning. The folks that don’t understand your warning will continue to look for others to lead them, to feed them information.

    As long as they don’t overwrite my hosts file, the IPs I visit will be of my own choosing. DNS servers are another point of ownership though. Who gave them the right to sell virtual name real estate. Laying claim to urls is a direct analog of purchasing virtual goods.

    Imagine your parents had to pay to name you?

    Great post, still catching up on your info stream.

  45. nickf said
    at 5am on Nov 30th # |

    Oh the irony of the hundreds upon hundreds of twitter links to this site, using a third party URL shortener. There’s the death of the URL right there.

  46. waqas said
    at 7am on Nov 30th # |

    very nice indeed

  47. at 8am on Dec 3rd # |

    The death of the URL has been predicted since the birth of the Web. I’m not downplaying the importance of the issue or of the risks you’re citing. But URLs and entry of URLs is always held up (primarily by marketeers) as a blocker to usability. Translation: they are not monetizable. These same people have more recently been claiming that Google has killed the URL because “people don’t know or understand the difference between the search field and the URL entry field.” This same story has been playing itself out since the beginning of the Web. These same arguments were made in the mid 90’s by those at the closed portals (e.g. AOL) as the open Web cannibalized their businesses out of existence.

    That ship had already sailed.

    People are now used to the freedom and openness of the Web and they can smell it a mile away when products are marketed to them as “the Web” that do not provide this openness and user choice. The death of walled-garden mobile portals has been the latest example. Regular Web users know the difference between URLs (“web addresses”) and searches. Web users will reject closed environments in which their choice to enter URLs is restricted. Marketeers and others who think otherwise are on the losing side of history.

  48. kL said
    at 9am on Dec 3rd # |

    more evidence:

    • url shorteners (make urls meaningless)

    • Google started adding on SERP explicit Country and Breadcrumbs in place of URL.

  49. at 5am on Dec 7th # |

    It’s important to be concerned about such things. It certainly wasn’t a trend I’d paid attention to, so I appreciate the heads up.

    However, I expect that it’s primarily a manifestation of the technology adoption lifecycle. There will always be people working and living in the early adopters phase. There will always be kids and adults who don’t want to do just what is presented them and will go find out how to do the rest. And there will always be people who are content otherwise.

    The existence of libraries and bookstores is side by side with the large percentage of adults who never read a book all the way through after they’ve completed school.

  50. litl_phil said
    at 12pm on Dec 8th # |

    Hi, I work with litl. We’d disagree strongly that our UI takes away any freedom to surf – you can just type urls into our interface like on any browser and go there. And we don’t have any plans at all to try to kill that or to restrict access to searches as far as I am aware nor can I imagine why we would do that.

    We freely admit that we take inspiration in easel mode from the metaphor of the TV and agree that people need a web appliance but by the same token we are still a webbook and work like one in laptop mode. What we do have plans to do is expand our offerings of litl channels – these don’t restrict targeted web services and content either but do customize the interface to these so that these slide effortlessly into our UI and usability model. We’re also releasing an SDK soon so people can build their own channels. We won’t seek to overly control what can go through a litl channel only the interface to it. And you can still go straight to web pages. I’ve participated in or sat in on many high level discussions at litl and I’ve never once heard any mention of us trying to strangle or unduly manipulate user’s url choices. We do offer our suggestions for sites, streams and webapps and we don’t necessarily get any direct benefit from those. Watch http://blog.litl.com for new channel announcements.

  51. at 1pm on Dec 8th # |

    Great post, it really opened my eyes. I really appreciate the links an time you put into this.

  52. LKRaider said
    at 6am on Jan 19th # |

    A technical note: We need devices to have static ipv6 assigned to them, so we can reference globally without intermediaries (dns, etc), then we can see a return to self-publishing services.

  53. Gold Coast Eddie said
    at 9am on Sep 13th # |

    You are not wrong or paranoid. I already see too many nag boxes from software companies on my brand new notebook. I also see that I have to click several times on my mobile device in order to access the address bar every time I need to use it. The mobile device defaults just happen to go to my ISP’s monetized pages.

    While they know that some of us are annoyed, they know as time goes by that the new reality will be accepted by the next generation as “normal”.

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