Making the web simple, but not simplistic

A couple of months ago, an experimental feature Google introduced in the ‘Canary’ build of its Chrome browser prompted a flurry of posts in the tech press. The change was to go one step further than displaying an ‘origin chip’ and do away with the URL entirely:

Hidden URL

I have to admit that when I first heard of this I was horrified – I assumed it was being done for the worst of reasons (i.e. driving more traffic to Google search). However, on reflection, I think it’s a nice example of progressive complexity. Clicking on the root name of the site reveals the URL. Otherwise, typing in the omnibox allows you to search the web:

Google Chrome experiment

Progressive complexity is something we should aspire to when designing tools for a wide range of users. It’s demonstrated well by my former Mozilla colleague Rob Hawkes in his work on ViziCities:


Using this approach means that those that are used to manipulating URLs are catered for – but the process is simplified for novice users.

Something we forget is that URLs often depend on the file structures of web servers: There’s no particular reason why this should be the case.

iCloud and Pages on OS X
Pages on Mac OS X saving to iCloud

Google Drive interface

It’s worth noting that both Apple and Google here don’t presuppose you will create folders to organise your documents and digital artefacts. You can do so, or add tags, but it’s just as easy to dump them all in one place and search efficiently. It’s human-centred design.

My guiding principle here from a web literacy point of view is whether simplification and progressive complexity is communicated to users. Is it clear that there’s more to this than what’s presented on the surface? With the examples I’ve given in this post, I feel that they are.

Questions? Comments? I’m @dajbelshaw or you can email me at


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