Do we still need the URL — that gangly collection of slashes and gobbledygook? A new experimental version of the Google Chrome browser says no.

Chrome Canary, like the legendary canary lowered into mines to early-detect dangerous gases, is a leading-edge version of the Chrome browser. Google uses it to test out ideas, and one idea in the new Chrome 36 version of Canary is to bury the full URL into the top-level domain name. Even navigating within the site shows only the site name.

google-canaryTop: Chrome Canary v. 36.0.1968.0, Bottom: the general release, Chrome v. 34.0.1847.131.

The field that some still call the “address bar” is now more properly known as the Omnibox, reflecting the ability in Chrome (and Firefox) for users to type a search term into that box and get Google results, as well as to input a URL.

When only the top-level domain is showing in Canary’s Omnibox, you can still see the full URL by clicking the “origin chip” button – that is, on the domain name itself. (The button becomes enabled only by typing chrome://flags/#origin-chip-in-omnibox into the Canary Omnibox.). Clicking on the domain allows you to edit it.

The domain-only approach simplifies the Web address and also creates room for a sub-field to the right that offers the option to “search Google or type URL.”

Debates are raging on the Web now about whether this is a move forward or not. On the one hand, more than a few users navigate the Web by going first to Google, searching, and clicking on the link, instead of using an address. Similarly, many website visitors ignore other options and navigate around a site through built-in search features.

And there’s the fact that URLs are often confusing and can be interminably long. We don’t reference Macy’s address when we talk about a Macy’s department, so why should we bother with a long URL for a section on Amazon?

Mobile Safari for iOS 7 has already buried the full URL into the top-level domain, as much for space as for usability reasons. But many users still like the URL, to see if they’ve been phished, to get a sense of where they are in the site, or to navigate to another site section by modifying part of the address. But, Canary fans might argue, the button still allows you to see the hidden URL.

Canary’s solution lets a user bury the URL in the site name, use the Omnibox for searching as prompted, and then either call up the full URL when needed or show it all the time. Still, Google could make it easier for users to find where to change the options.

Most users, of course, will keep whatever the set default is. Which do you prefer?

Via Allen Pike

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