Google demotes Chrome feature that would hide full Web addresses

Those who want their browser to show Web sites' full addresses should be happy that Google put work on its "origin chip" on the back burner.

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The actions Google takes with its Chrome browser cast a long shadow. Stephen Shankland/CNET

Google apparently has taken one step back from its "origin chip" plan that would hide the full addresses for Web sites that people visit with its Chrome browser.

On Tuesday, Chrome team member Peter Kasting demoted one aspect of the address-hiding feature from a top priority to a third-level priority. "The origin chip work is backburnered," he said in his explanation on Google's issue-tracking site.

It wasn't immediately clear why Google did so, but a lot of the origin chip work is already done, and some other aspects of the origin chip work remain active in the Chrome issue tracker. Google declined to comment.

The origin chip is a region to the left of Chrome's address bar that showed only the domain of a Web address. For example, it would show "http://www.cnet.com/" instead of a full Web address such as " http://www.cnet.com/news/google-test-hides-web-addresses-in-chrome/" -- the longer address can be more useful but also can be crowded with obscure coding only a computer could love.

Here's what the difference looks like in Chrome's address bar:

Google tested a feature in Chrome called the origin chip that showed only the domain of a Web site, not its full URL.
Google tested a feature in Chrome called the origin chip that showed only the domain of a Web site, not its full URL. Stephen Shankland/CNET

Google had been testing the feature on a fraction of Chrome beta users to gauge people's response. Some of that was negative, since the full Web address can show useful information.

For example, people might want to know at a glance they're at "http://www.reddit.com/r/bitcoin" or "http://www.ebay.com/vlp/sporting-goods/", details that would be hidden away with the origin chip. Or they might want to know if a program has appended user-tracking tags such as "?feedType=RSS&feedName=technologyNews" to the address.

Navigating the Web has changed dramatically, and full addresses no longer are as essential as they once were. Search engines are often used to get us where we want to go, and the share buttons in smartphone apps can take the place of a copy-and-paste operation when you want to tell a friend about a particular Web site.

But it's hard to change user interfaces when millions of users have grown accustomed to them. Chrome's growth into a major force on the Net makes it harder for Google to introduce significant changes such as the origin chip or the "omnibox" that merged the browser's search box and address boxes when Chrome debuted in 2008.

In earlier comments on Google+, Kasting shared some reasons why the origin chip could be a good idea: The minimalist presentation could make it more inviting to search, could make it easier to refine searches by adding or removing search terms, and could improve security by showing users what site they're really on, not just what a carefully crafted address might misleadingly suggest.

Using the origin chip frees up room for Chrome's omnibox to show search terms and let people tweak their searches.
Using the origin chip frees up room for Chrome's omnibox to show search terms and let people tweak their searches. screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

Web addresses, called uniform resource locators (URLs), are a fundamental part of the World Wide Web that Tim Berners-Lee created 25 years ago. The origin chip doesn't remove the full URL, but makes it something people have to look for.

The way the origin chip feature was implemented, a person could click on the chip to see or copy the full address. In addition, the Ctrl/Cmd-L keyboard shortcut shows selects the full address, as it does today without the origin chip.

Apple has hidden full Web addresses on its Safari browser on iOS 7, its mobile operating system. That's used on devices like the iPhone that don't generally have as much screen space as a desktop computer, but Apple seems to like the idea: at its Worldwide Developer Conference on June 2, it showed the upcoming version of Safari for the Mac also hiding Web addresses.

Updated at 1:55 p.m. PT to clarify that the aspect of the origin chip work that was demoted was only one aspect of the feature and to add Google's no-comment response.