Dangerous Ideals

They want you searching…. URLs are irrelevant. And I really think this is Google’s philosophy is that they want to make URLs just completely irrelevant.

The above quote came from the lips of one Dan Benjamin on Build and Analyze #33. Speaking with Marco Arment about the terrible URLs that Google is currently using for Google+, they came to this idea about why Google didn’t think more about how their URLs look, specifically about having usernames so that you could go to plus.google.com/username to get to a person.

The quote scares me, and coupled with Google trying to also minimize the URL bar (Gizmodo article link), really starts to worry me as to some powers-that-be trying to change the very foundation of what makes the web, the web.

I’m probably blowing this way out of proportion because I’m a little groggy this morning, but maybe there is just a little something there.

6 replies on “Dangerous Ideals”

Aren’t URLs already an abstraction? What’s the difference if they’re long or short from the typical user’s perspective? My favorite story is when an article regarding Facebook started getting some pretty livid comments about not being able to log into Facebook suddenly (Read the comments that follow http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/facebook_wants_to_be_your_one_true_login.php). Turned out that the article had been linked to enough to unseat Facebook from the #1 top rank in a Google search and people were just automatically clicking the top result. That’s just how people use the web for better or worse.

With shortening services and further URL abstractions I tend to think that Google has a point. Relying that heavily on search to access content is still better than the walled gardens some social sites are trying to build.

By relying on search, however, you enter another walled garden … a search walled-garden. I’m thinking outside of social sites, which are another can of worms entire, but doing away with the URL completely and using search engines. You are then at the whim of what a search engine deems important, what is deemed spam, what is deemed … anything.

The search engines then have completely control over your experience on the web. URLs (and the DNS system, really) is awesome because it is distributed in maybe the best sense. Sure, it brings problems (odd URLs), but doing away with them and relying on a large search provider like Google/Bing seems just as terrible, if not worse. It entrenches the incumbents even more and makes them even more powerful.

We prostrate ourselves to Google enough already, raising their power even more would only make it easier for them to kick us in the pants.

I don’t disagree with what you’re saying one bit. Google no longer innovates and is imploding under its own weight. We’re looking at another phase-shift era and it’ll be fun to see who changes the game fundamentally again.

As someone who is almost purely a content consumer rather than a creator I feel very comfortable saying that the vast majority of people are not digitally literate enough to approach the web outside of search. It just took too long for hosting to become commoditized and content creation to become simplified (“GUI”fied perhaps?) to avoid this situation. The search providers always said “use our service to make it easier to consume” and consumers liked it. Remember when Google came on the scene? Man was it sweet! Yahoo, Alta Vista, et all suxored hard core. And before that you had to work so hard to find newsgroups and bulletin boards with credibility to find anything cool or follow a crazy trail of links.

My point is that as much as we hate it, the web to most of the unwashed masses IS search engines. Apps seem to be the answer some content creators have come up with. Its still the internet, just not the web any more. What consumer needs URLs when they have a nifty app on their iDevice to give them the content? Just think of all the services you can leverage without ever seeing their webpage? Facebook, Twitter, Flikr, YouTube, etc. Heck, even Gmail is an app on Android.

It occurs to me to link the excellent Wired article on the topic: http://www.wired.com/magazine/2010/08/ff_webrip/all/1

I could wax poetically about that Wired article, but I’ll refrain at the moment.

I understand what you are saying, but the wholesale destruction of the URL will continue to worry me because we add “middle management” to every transaction on the web. Somehow I don’t think that is optimal.

I think it is wise to be guarded against the under tones of what Google is doing. They wield too much power as it is now and people (consumers of the Internet) are pretty starry-eyed about Google after 10+ years of power. I remember when search engine favorite rotated regularly – remember Alta Vista, Ask Jeeves, etc… Perhaps innovation is stifled these days a bit.

It is almost like we are relying on Google to do any innovating for us, and taking whatever they do right in the mouth.

Google is an ad company, they sell ads. That’s where they make money and is what subsidizes EVERYTHING else they do: Android, Gmail, Google Apps, Google Calendar, etc. is all subsidized by ad money.

That’s a scary thing.

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