Fellow Mozillian and web hacker Atul Varma struggles with a recent streamlining of the Firefox interface, the removal of “http” from the address in the URL bar:
…[B]rowsers have historically been very friendly to learning web-making, in part because they keep protocol information in the address bar. My guess is that removing the http:// neither helps nor hinders someone from using the basics of the web—but it definitely makes it harder to learn what hypertext is.
Atul is rightly worried. The web is evolving rapidly, and one of its genes stands trial: the URL. It faces mounting pressure of extinction as a prominent piece of our user interfaces. The removal of the protocol is one minor example. Take the native application trend on mobile. Although the URL still remains the technical heart pumping data through our web, the URL no longer stands as the canonical identity of our web. On my phone, I don’t go to twitter.com. I tap on Twitter. I find myself spending more time outside the browser than ever before.
In truth, Mozilla is beginning to embrace this trend. We are now dreaming up open application markets and painting pictures of web applications that appear no different than their native cousins. The trend feels obvious. In this manner, native has already triumphantly secured its place in the gene pool.
Will the URL ultimately fade into oblivion? I can’t predict the future, but I can ask a better question. If the URL no longer stands as the bulwark defending the hackability and transparency of our web, what new things will we build up to replace it?