Google Chrome is interested in turning around how we access websites on the Internet. As the most popular web browser in the world, perhaps they should have some say in the matter. They’d like to make URLs both easier to understand and more secure. Will they be successful in changing everything we know about connecting to our favorite sites?
Need for Improvement?
We use URLs to take us to the website we want to visit. These are supposed to be easier to remember and work with than routing protocols. But as the Web has progressed, the websites aren’t always easy to understand. Sometimes there aren’t words after the initial domain name; instead there are what seems like random characters.
This all can make is easier to be tricked into visiting a malicious website. It’s hard to know what is legitimate and what isn’t. Schemers can start a new website by just adding a word in, confusing many who believe it’s the original website. Mobile devices can’t display the whole address, and that just makes it that much easier to be malicious.
“People have a really hard time understanding URLs,” said Chrome’s engineering manager, Adrienne Porter. “They’re hard to read, it’s hard to know which part of them is supposed to be trusted, and in general I don’t think URLs are working as a good way to convey site identity.”
Improvement Could Be on Its Way
Because of all that, Gooogle Chrome is envisioning making a change to the URL system, taking it back to something that is easier to work with and easier to remember.
“We want to move toward a place where web identity is understandable by everyone — they know who they’re talking to when they’re using a website, and they can reason about whether they can trust them,” added Porter.
“But this will mean big changes in how and when Chrome displays URLs. We want to challenge how URLs should be displayed and question it as we’re figuring out the right way to convey identity.”
They’re taking on a big problem. Many before have considered making changes, but there isn’t an easy solution. Porter and Chrome’s principal engineer, Justin Schuh, contend that even their team is divided on how best to tackle this. They’re also not offering any possible solutions at this point, so it makes it that much harder to see the potential for change.
For right now the Chrome team is focusing on all the different ways people use URLs so that they can try to develop a system that will enhance security and identity while also giving the end user convenience in using links.
“I don’t know what this will look like because it’s an active discussion in the team right now,” said Chrome director of engineering, Parisa Tabriz. “But I do know that whatever we propose is going to be controversial That’s one of the challenges with a really old and open and sprawling platform. Change will be controversial, whatever form it takes.
“But it’s important we do something because everyone is unsatisfied by URLs. They kind of suck.”
They’ve previously made some changes such as introducing the “origin chip” that only showed the main domain name of a site to help users. It wasn’t a system that went over well, though, and the company paused the rollout just a few weeks in.
They’ve also faced blowback for giving priority to encrypted sites using HTTPS and marking HTTP sites as undesirable. Tabriz recognizes, “You make a change and people freak out. So whatever we do here, I know it’s going to be controversial. It just takes a long time.”
No one at Chrome is ready to talk about the new proposed changes but feel they may be ready in the fall or next spring. Technical lead at Chrome, Emily Stark, refers to it as the “URLephant in the room.”
Changes on the Distant Horizon
This all makes it hard to go along with as a consumer. The Google Chrome team is telling us the URL system is bad and needs improvement. But they aren’t willing to tell us yet how they want to fix it.
Do you have ideas for fixing the URL system, or do you think it’s fine the way it is? Let’s get a conversation rolling about possible changes to the existing URL system.