How? Where? What?

Reading Alec Muffett’s blog post on Google Chrome’s team decision to remove http:// as redundant geek speak from the browser, I think I cannot highlight enough the following piece:

“The URL represents “how://where/what” – how to retrieve some data, at where, and what the data is called”

Ah the joys of browser intelligence stupidity, while it tries to second-guess the user in order to help him. So when I type in the address bar, do I want to access it via HTTP or via FTP because the name starts with FTP? Do not second-guess the user because you are not helping him although you think you do.

And if the how:// part is not persuasive enough, let’s see the where part for which I have commented elsewhere. Users seem to expect that http://www.dom.ain should be identical to http://dom.ain. Instead of altering this expectation browsers tried to be helpful enough to connect to http://www.dom.ain when dom.ain does not respond and thus reinforcing it. Yay, right? No! Not only is the browser second-guessing the user, it also assumes the existence of http://www.dom.ain, and that a common administrative domain exists for both dom.ain and http://www.dom.ain. And then along come newer services, like for example OpenDNS that provides working pages for non-existent pages to the user’s dismay and irritation because what they get† is not what they asked for (but technically it is exactly what they asked for). This abstraction (and expectation) implies certain types of architectures that support the expected behavior and there is nothing that guarantees (or mandates) that such architectures are implemented. But hey, the browser is helping the user here by saving him from four keystrokes on two keys.

Since browsers are second-guessing both the how:// and the where, how long before they are going to second-guess the what too?

So please people, when trying to help by “improving” a user interface, ask yourself who (besides yourself) are you really helping. The Law of Unintended Consequences seeks opportunity.

[†] – If you want to be helpful, you do it the OpenDNS way: By giving the user choice. By removing choice for “convenience” you end up with misdirected user irritation, since the users tend to believe that not reaching a page is the administrators fault, where in fact it is the result of a series of choices done for years on behalf of the user without his consent. And we reach today, where the combination of an “intelligent” choice by the browser is incompatible with the user choice (using OpenDNS).]

7 thoughts on “How? Where? What?

  1. The Apple effect is in full swing.

    In the brave new world of computing, http:// is indeed redundant. So is a full-fledged general-purpose computer. A really limited computer on the other hand (iPad) can reach a much wider audience, since it is “simple” to use (but so is a calculator). Just keep dumbing everything down by removing *choice* (and thus responsibility and knowledge on the user side—people ARE STUPID after all), i.e. the Apple effect. It’s a prudent business decision, all things considered—the 90/10 rule. Those in the 10 will always figure out a way. In terms of business, you care about the 90.

    Incidentally, I don’t think they were trying to ‘help’. Nobody ever lost money by making products idiot-friendly (which is different from idiot-proof by the way).

    1. It is not the removal itself that is annoying. It is the inconsistent way that it is done. Which makes the result stupider than the prior case. An undergraduate having just passed an AI course could have designed a system with better behavior.

      Like I ask: How long before the browser decides the “what” in the URL part?

      At least when searching, Google does this right: When it thinks that you are searching for something different than what you typed, it provides suggestions, it does not automagically drive you to the results it thinks you want.

      That is the way to deal with the 90%. Otherwise it will bite back.

      1. The 90% never bites back, by definition of what the 90% IS.

        Also, the result might be stupider but why do you think that was NOT the intent? Either way, the important thing is that choice is removed. That’s what matters.

        As to your other question about the what: I’d say in 5 years or around there.

        The trend is for more control and less choice, both packaged under “accessibility” or “redundant geek speak”. Google is riding that trend left right & center. They are after all competing with Apple…

        1. The 90% as single individuals never bite back. However their collective behavior as a superorganism will. In what way I cannot forecast. Yes we know from General System Theory that “variety kills variety”. For example gopher:// was among the available choices for the how:// part and today it is (almost) extinct and the same will stand for ftp:// in a few years time.

          But accelerating evolution (in order to kill variety) is a totally different game. I agree that the inent is to stupidify machinery and thus making it more accessible. But the strategy to do so is even more stupidier. And in the case of Chrome it is even more evident by the response of the Chrome developers to the cut-and-paste problem that their decision created: Their “solution” is even more complex and actually worse (it cannot distinguish when you want to copy a selection with http:// and when you do not). The right thing to do would be to stand by their initial decision despite the complaints. By giving ground they made things even more complex and therefore neither stupid-proof nor stupid-friendly.

          I understand the trend for less choice and more control. But this is not achieved with hacks[*]: They have the resourses (people, money and machinery) to perform as they are expected.

          [*] – If you want the user *not* to type http:// have it pretyped in the address bar, do not replace it with an icon.

  2. Since browsers are second-guessing both the how:// and the where, how long before they are going to second-guess the what too?

    Some of them can. Take Chrome for example. It’s address bar, based on your browsing history, how many times you visit a particular website, etc, automatically types the domain or even the /what for you.

    When I type “t”, Chrome automatically types “” and then if I type “/” it adds “”.

    See? I think we’re already on this stage — except IE though.

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