Tom Ortega II

Dad, what’s a url?

In AIR, Kids, Prism, Technology and Software on March 16, 2008 at 8:43 pm

I can’t help but think how archaic the internet still is. Case in point, URLs. Is this the bane of internetters or what?

Let’s start with the prefix:

http://

Seriously, do we really need to have that crap anymore? How many folks are trying to FTP, Telnet or friggin Gopher these days from their browser?

I can already hear the conversation that I’ll have with my kids someday. “Hey, Dad. What was the letters and slash stuff?” “H-T-T-P-colon-slash-slash.” “See, told you. Crazy stuff back in the day.”

Next up is the infamous triple letter combination:

Double-u, double-u, double-u

dub, dub, dub

Triple double-u

However you say WWW, it’s about time we get rid of it. I think it’s safe to say we all realize that it’s the World Wide Web now.

Now, some corporations are guilty of not only keeping this around but going a bit on the extreme side of it. What I mean by that is adding WWW in front of subdomains. I won’t actually call out the URLs, but it would be something like this:

http://www.reservations.airline.com

So after dropping those two items, that leaves us with just the domain and the suffix. I suppose we can’t really get rid of those just yet. Realnames tried, but failed pretty miserably.

Yes, I realize that browsers support just a domain name and the top level domain suffix. They will then add the rest that I’m proposing we get rid of. However, I’m saying we need to consciously do away with them too.

Some of you are likely asking, “What are we to use then? We need addresses. That would be like addressing a letter to ‘The house of Tom’ and hoping it would arrive in your mailbox. It just won’t work.” To which, I say, “Sure, it will.”

In a way, we’re both right. Of course, I’m not saying we do away with unique identifiers: domain names, IP addresses, cell phone numbers, etc. Somehow, someway, some computer has to manually track each and every entry on the internet. However, there’s no reason why we as humans have to conform and remember the crazy unique identifier. When having a conversation, I may want to tell someone about my tutorial on the Flex Component Kit for Flash. I definitely wouldn’t say, “Yeah, just go to https://lordbron.wordpress.com/2007/05/01/flex-component-kit-step-by-step/ and you can see my tutorial.” No, rather, I’d say, “I have a tutorial post on my lordbron blog.”

A lot of folks dial their cells by either voicing the callee’s name or looking up a name in the phone book. Numbers are a one time thing that we enter, and to be honest, I’m too lazy to have both people manually enter the numbers. When exchanging number with new contacts, I ask for their number, dial it and say, “That’s my number.” This way, they just hit save and never even have to type my unique identifier. Tell someone in the early days of the phone that you’d be able to say, “Call mom” into the phone and it would automatically connect you with your mom and they would’ve said, “You’re crazy.”

There’s a few ways that I think we can get around the URL (or unique indentifier) issue:

  • Merge the URL bar with the search box
  • Utilize RIA technologies like AIR and Prism to do away with the need for a browser
  • Widgets (to an extent)

Merge the URL bar with the search box

Now, I know, this may sound crazy but hear me out. There are two areas where you can go in a browser to find a spot on the web: the url bar and the search box. Most times, you’ll know the address and you enter it in the url bar. As you start to type, it autocompletes and you choose the site/location that you’re trying to get to. No reason why we couldn’t add that functionality to the search box. It could look like the current search box drop down only with a divider. Anything above the dividing line takes you straight to a site you’ve already been to, anything below the line takes you to the search results of your preferred search engine.

Firefox and Internet Explorer already will take whatever you type in the url bar and submit it to a search engine for you if it doesn’t resolve to a URL. Therefore, it just seems silly to me that we have two input boxes when in reality we only need one. I’m for simplification and this would greatly reduce me having to switch from the url bar and the search box via keyboard shortcuts.

Utilize RIA technologies like AIR and Prism to do away with the need for a browser

I know there are those out there that love the browser and praise it as the end all be all of the internet. Seriously though, let’s rethink this for a second. Yes, when I had my cutting edge GeoCities site in 1997, the Back and Forward buttons were the bomb. In 2008 though, when making a Flex App or when using GMail, Forward and Back are not only a bit rough, but oftentimes useless.

“What about Bookmarks?” I can hear the masses ask. To which I say, “What about ’em? Do you miss bookmarks in Word? Outlook? Calculator? Flash Authoring? Photoshop?” No, and therefore, you shouldn’t “miss” them in web apps either. An application is a workflow, not a linear object like a book. Therefore, book marks are pretty useless.

Plus, with blog readers (for RSS “bookmarks”) and del.icio.us (for non-app website bookmarks), you really shouldn’t be user browser bookmarks anyways.

Therefore, I think technologies like Adobe AIR and Mozilla Prism are way more useful than the browser. You escape the Forward/Back metaphor AND you totally control the experience. If you don’t know what I mean by controlling the experience, just do this comparison.

The eBay website vs The eBay Desktop

Seriously, why go back to the eBay website after you’ve tried eBay Desktop? eBay is all about a fun experience. The AIR app delivers that, the website…not so much.

Widgets (to an extent)

Some websites, just don’t need to be websites. Case in point: weather.com While I appreciate being able to go there to lookup weather, it’s a heck of a lot easier for me to flip my weather widget over on my Mac and enter a new location for it. I know this probably doesn’t make weather.com all that happy, since I’m bypassing their ads. It’s the truth though, so it is what it is.

As you can see, we’re on our way to a better internet. We just gotta keep on trucking and improving until we get to the point where my kids can ask, “Dad, what’s a url?”

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  1. I’ve largely stopped using the search box in the browser and just type my search queries straight into the address bar (in FF). If the almighty gods think that there’s a single result appropriate enough then they take me straight to that page (like hitting “I’m Feeling Lucky” on Google). If not then I get the the Google results for my search query. It’s beautiful. When I want to go to the MXNA blog aggregator I just type in “mxna” into the address bar. That’s not the domain name (not even part of the domain name) but it takes me right there.

    I just tried that by opening a new tab and typing “tom ortega” and it took me straight to this blog, bypassing the search page altogether. This saves me loads of milliseconds in FireFox cause I can literally just type “[Ctrl-T] tom ortega [Enter]” and I get a new tab with your blog.

  2. Long overdue!

    BTW, speaking of mail — why do we even need addresses? You should be able to send me a letter or package by just writing “93953-1747”, which is my Zip+4.

  3. @Doug That’s what I’m talking about. Technology is there to work for us (i.e. the search engine). Why not make it simpler for folks. Can you imagine how many folks are confused by the two boxes?

    Interesting sidenote too, many AOL converts were used to the keyword concept. In early AOL, and possibly still, there was an area where you typed a keyword and AOL took you to whoever bought that keyword. It trained people to enter things in the “box” on the screen.

    Flash forward to the internet sans AOL walls, i.e. just a browser. Many of those AOLers didn’t even realize there was a URL bar. Many of them type the url into the search box of whatever their default search homepage was.

    @Art I agree.

    Funny story about addresses too. In Florence, Italy there is this famous Gelato Vendor named Vivoli. Taped to the wall is a postcard bearing only “Vivoli, Europa” for the address, yet it was successfully delivered.

    Granted, I doubt we’re all that popular, but still. Pretty neat.

  4. Many companies add www to all their URLs because a lot of users think that is required. In college, I worked at the help desk. Our email server used a subdomain, and many new users tried http://www.sub.example.edu instead of sub.example.edu like the instructions stated.

  5. I just type what I want into the browser bar. Firefox asks Google and I get my page. No URLs for me! I don’t even bother bookmarking most things. I want flickr? I type flickr. Hooray for clever web browsers and PageRank!

    -danny

  6. The interesting thing to me is that this discussion is practically moot.

    When I watch non-technical users browse the internet, I see one common behavior. They all have a search page as their home page. They all type *everything* in the search box.

    If you tell them to search for something, the enter it in the search box of the page. If you tell them to enter a URL (even if you describe the location of the URL field in the browser), then enter it in the search box of the page.

    What is interesting about this is that it works the vast majority of the time.

  7. I can’t believe AOL is still around. I don’t even think I know anyone that has AOL anymore. As for the word URL… I couldn’t count how many times that I used the word URL and someone said, “What’s that?”.

  8. Ever hear a paradigm shift without a clutch. t’ain’t pretty 🙂

  9. “alternative to typing http://

    Simple browser innovation…

    Remove the HTTP, and have it be a drop down (which the ability to add customized options). This simple change would eliminate the need to type http://. Now if you clicked on a link it would automatically change to reflect where you were. (ie: https://). But if you wanted to go to FTP. You could select “FTP” from the drop down and then type 360conferences.com

    “www”

    Yes, why we picked three of the longest letters to pronounce in any fashion. And how to ever change it.

    I’d like to see a proposal for the simple alternative…

    web.yahoo.com

    And to somehow make it an infrastructure level change so that web. & www. would be synonymous. And even allow “yahoo.com” to simply be “silent web”. Where as all other subdomains would require typing mail.yahoo.com, movies.yahoo.com, etc.

    But this has to be done seamless to the common user. But likewise. I think this could be incorporated in a browser design.

    In fact, I did a little back end site for my mother-in-law and she was having problems. It wasn’t maintaining her “session”. I finally realized she wasn’t entering the domain in the URL bar but in the search and without the www. prefix. Well, the host server wasn’t setup to equate domain.com the same as http://www.domain.com.

    ““Call mom” into the phone and it would automatically connect you with your mom and they would’ve said, “You’re crazy.””

    My father used to caution on the danger of this (ie: when lack of phone exists), or of the guy standing at the pay phone saying “Call mom!” and nothing happens. Of course, one is now hard pressed to find a pay phone anymore. (What an interesting twist the future delivered.) *lol*

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