It looks like Google is trying to mess with the URL bar again. As spotted by Android Police, new flags in the developer versions of the popular browser now want to hide the URL path. So for an article like this one, instead of “https://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2020/06/google-is-messing-with-the-address-bar-again-new-experiment-hides-url-path/,” the address bar would show “arstechnica.com.”
For now, the feature isn’t on by default. You have to have the developer versions of Chrome and need to dig into chrome://flags to enable the feature, which is called “Omnibox UI Hide Steady-State URL Path, Query, and Ref.” Everything in Chrome://flags is an experiment, but most Chrome changes land here first before they are rolled out to stable versions.
With main flag on, the full URL appears while the page is loading and then simplifies to only the domain name once loading is finished. Clicking on the address bar will display the full URL, as will switching tabs. A second flag lets you tweak the behavior so that the full URL appears when hovering over the address bar.
It’s unknown what Google’s plans are for the experiment, but hiding more URL information would line up with Chrome’s previous actions. For years the Chrome team has wanted to kill the URL bar, arguing that it’s a confusing way to express Web identity. While Google hasn’t outright killed the bar yet, Chrome has made numerous changes to try to “simplify” the URL bar. Currently, Chrome hides URL protocol if it is HTTP or HTTPS. On Google-hosted AMP mobile sites, Chrome also hides the “google.com/amp” part of the URL, showing the URL of the original page, instead. Some of Chrome’s URL experiments haven’t made it into the stable default behavior, like a 2018 experiment to hide the URL on Google search results pages or a radical 2014 experiment with a new URL format called the “origin chip.”
For now, the feature is only in the Canary or Developer versions of Chrome. Again, we don’t know if this change will come to the stable builds, but it’s always good to share your feedback early on in the development process, so let ’em have it in the comments.
Listing image by Isaac Bowen / Flickr