In defence of URLs and the Open Web

An increasing number of web services and applications are emphasising search terms or pre-selected websites instead of allowing users to enter any address they choose. This is worrying, as while searches are more user-friendly, URLs are the heart of an open web where anybody can publish without obscure business dealings or oppressive app store policies.

There are many examples of this happening, from Facebook's framing of web to netbooks systems like the JoliCloud not having an address bar. Certainly many companies are looking at Mozilla's search engine revenue and Apple's app store model and want to emulate that, moving the web into silos of their own control. But at the same time, we're thinking of Linked Data and open, interoperable web standards.

Web indeed is at new crossroads.

Chris Messina predicts the death of URLs:

a future without URLs and without the infinite organicity of the web frightens me. It’s not that I know what we’ll lose by removing this artifact of one of the most generative periods in history — and that’s exactly the point! The URL and the ability for anyone to mint a new one and then propagate it is what makes the web so resilient, so empowering, and so interesting! That I don’t need to ask anyone permission to create a new website or webpage is a kind of ideological freedom that few generations in history have known!

Tim O'Reilly presents a call to arms:

It could be that everyone will figure out how to play nicely with each other, and we'll see a continuation of the interoperable web model we've enjoyed for the past two decades. But I'm betting that things are going to get ugly. We're heading into a war for control of the web. And in the end, it's more than that, it's a war against the web as an interoperable platform. Instead, we're facing the prospect of Facebook as the platform, Apple as the platform, Google as the platform, Amazon as the platform, where big companies slug it out until one is king of the hill.

And it's time for developers to take a stand. If you don't want a repeat of the PC era, place your bets now on open systems. Don't wait till it's too late.


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