musings, tech

URLs and searching

URL hiding

A while ago, I read a piece called “Improving the URL Bar” (turns out it’s almost a year old, but never mind). I made both mental and Pinboard-based notes of it, because my response to it was, “That’s not improving the URL bar, it’s destroying it.”

Reading it again now, I don’t feel quite so strongly; I partly agree with what the author was getting at. But I feel we lose something important as we make URLs less visible. They show something of the hierarchy of a site, its structure — or at least that’s the origin of the path part.

The argument against that of course is that the path part is an implentation detail that doesn’t need to be seen by users, and perhaps more importantly, the whole thing is meaningless at best, confusing at worst to most users.

Well, maybe so. But to those of us who do understand them, hiding them can be confusing, even annoying.Of course you can click in the URL bar, or press Cmd-L or Ctrl-L, to see the whole thing. More usefully, In Safari, which I’m currently using, there’s a preference called “Show full website address”, which overrides the behaviour. So you can have your choice.


But then there’s this whole thing that we have now, of browsers doing a search when you type something in URL bar; especially (though not exclusively) when it’s not obviously a URL that you’ve typed or pasted.

I don’t like it.

Or I didn’t. I’ve been using Safari since I wiped and reinstalled this Mac because it was getting really slow (successfully, I might add). I decided to keep things as stock as possible (within reason — I wasn’t going to switch back from Lightroom to iPhoto, for example, or from MailMate to And Firefox can sometimes be a bit of a resource hog.

But I spent quite some time trying to find out how to give Safari a separate search bar like FF has (or can have — it may be a plugin, but if so it’s one that I install without thinking). I had muscle memory that went Cmd-T, Cmd-K (or Ctrl-T, Ctrl-T when I’m on Windows) when I want a new tab I’m going to search in. Still have it, actually, because I still use FF on Windows on my work machine.

It turns out that you can’t have that on Safari. You just have to search from the URL bar. So I just got into the habit of doing that. And now I find I do it even on Firefox (you have both options there).

I don’t know; I still feel that the URL bar should be for URLs, and searching should be something else. but it doesn’t offend me like it used to.

Still, the effect is to further blur the distinction between searching for a site and going to a specific site. I see people — even experienced, technically knowledgable people — going to Google’s home page and typing “” into the search box. I mean, what?

Oh, and of course if you search from Google’s home page in Chrome, your cursor jumps to the URL bar! Or it did the last time I used Chrome. Which blurs the distinction between site and browser, as well as between site and search.

In the end it doesn’t matter that much — people mostly get where they mean to go — but by making it less than clear what is going on when we navigate around the web, we make it harder for people to understand how it’s all put together, and I think we lose something important in doing so.



We used to call this “thin clients”; or just a terminal logged on to a server or mainframe. Jason Snell writes of something newish that Adobe and Google are doing with Chromebooks:

This week I got a demo of Photoshop running inside Chrome, and while it was really interesting, some of my assumptions were faulty. It turns out that when Adobe says Photoshop is a “streaming app,” they mean it—it’s much more like screen sharing than native software. Photoshop runs remotely on a Windows-based server, and video of the app’s interface streams to the Chrome browser.

via Six Colors: Adobe streams Photoshop to Chromebooks.

music, musings, tech

Aye, (Head)Phones

I’m not in the market for a new pair of headphones. My venerable Sennheiser HD450s are still doing fine for over-the-head use, and the same brand have provided me with a series of earbuds for mobile use. But I tried a pair of Beats by Dre phones in an HMV the other day, just to see what all the fuss was about.

They looked pretty good, felt comfortable, and sounded great. But the price!

Apparently Apple bought Beats more for the streaming service than the phones. That makes sense: if they’d wanted a headphone company they’d have gone for Sennheiser, obviously (and if they cared about earphones in general they wouldn’t have made horrible ones for years).

But you’d think that if they wanted a streaming service, they’d have gone for Spotify, which is surely more established.

So I suspect the truth may include a combination of the two, plus a degree of cool cachet, in what is perhaps a demographic that they don’t currently reach.

Either way, if the next iPhone or Mac comes with a cool pair of phones (unlikely thought that may be) I won’t be unhappy.


Cluttered by Google, Lost by Bing

I was reading The Clutter Didn’t Kill the Love by Brent Simmons, about how he was trying Microsoft’s Bing search engine, instead of Google. His reason was the current worry that Google is becoming less than trustworthy.

Google losing trust would be a shame. But at least a Google search for “martin mccallion” (without the quotes) has this blog as the number one hit. Try that on Bing at the moment and you get a whole pile of other Martin McCallions.1 The worst part to me is that the first six are Facebook or LinkedIn profiles (the seventh is one of those annoying directory sites, then you get me).

I wouldn’t mind other people with the same name appearing above me, if it was their proper sites; but to me social-network profiles feel like distinctly second-class web entities.

Or is that snobbish?

  1. As an experiment, and to ensure a like-for-like comparison, I signed out of Google, and went to the .com version (I normally use by default). I was still at the top. []

Maccetty Mac

So, I’ve had this here new MacBook for a couple of weeks, an I’ve yet to post anything from it. I am, not surprisingly, loving it.

The initial weirdnesses (I’ve never used a Mac before, apart from once very briefly, before OS/X) include the absence of a hash-key (though you can get the character using Alt+3: #); the plethora of modifier keys: Ctrl and Alt, of course, but also Cmd and Fn. Though actually, most laptops have Fn, so it’s really just one extra. But they get a lot of use.

The nicest thing is probably the multitouch trackpad: scroll with two fingers, navigate with three, do some other weird navigation thing (Exposé, I think it’s called) with four. Pure dead brilliant, in the vernacular of my homeland.

Most annoying thing is the American positioning of the @ and ” keys. I’d like to remap those back to where my muscle-memory says they should be, but haven’t worked out how to do that yet.

I’ve installed various pieces of software on trial or demo options. I’m typing this entry using MarsEdit. I’m gathering notes for the the thing I intend to write for NaNoWriMo using Scrivener. And so on.

All in all, it’s the beginning of a big adventure.

And now, let’s see how this posts.