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What's the purpose of these inline URLs? Why clutter the interface when people can easily copy and paste their browser's address bar?

Google Maps

Google Maps does not change the browser address bar as you navigate the map, so the inline URL is "useful". As you traverse the world map, this inline URL will be updated to represent your current location. They could have left out this inline URL if they just updated the browser address bar through some javascript. All the good AJAX-heavy websites update the browser address for this very reason (and to not break the back button).

google maps

Youtube

When on Youtube, your browser address bar is updated correctly and is identical to this inline link, so this link is completely useless. Isn't it easier for the user to copy and paste the browser address bar than to search for this inline link, which is initially hidden?

youtube

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3 Answers

up vote 4 down vote accepted

You might as well ask why websites include Print buttons when people can just print the page by selecting File > Print (or some comparable option). The point is that not every user knows these things about their web browsers, and there is an element of design involved where the immediacy/presence of the control increases the likelihood of it getting used.

So while you're right that these controls are redundant in the literal sense, you should consider the larger picture that @N30 is alluding to: you may be designing a control with a certain purpose, such as sharing, and providing the URL there may be more convenient than microcopy saying "copy the address in your bar to share this page" or something similar.

As for Google Maps, have you considered that perhaps Google is intentionally not updating the address bar/history state so that users can easily click the Back button to go back to their search results? I'm speculating, but I find it hard to believe Google would leave things this way without a good reason.

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I guess you're right about Google intentionally not updating the address bar. It makes more sense to store history when entirely different panes are loaded via Ajax. It makes no sense to go back a single stroke of panning or zooming of the map. –  JoJo Dec 1 '10 at 0:27
    
+1 great points all round –  Bobby Jack Dec 1 '10 at 0:56
    
When I started to work for a startup company they had no idea what the an url bar was or what it was for. It came as a surprise to be back then and opened my eyes to the fact that people just don't get it, for a lot of things in computing. –  Andi Dec 1 '10 at 8:57
    
Another example of “redundant” things is the “close this window” link. –  Tsuyoshi Ito Dec 2 '10 at 16:06
    
@Tsuyoshi: and 'scroll to top' links, font sizing widgets, and even the dreaded 'back' link (duplicate of the 'back' button via javascript) - there's no shortage of examples :) –  Bobby Jack Dec 2 '10 at 16:34
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In google maps when user zoom in or zoom out or move maps using mouse google fetches images via ajax requests also google pre-fetches this data while user is on the page

so when user zoom in or zoom out you do not see any lags as map images are already in the cache.

you can view this ajax ( behind the screen ) requests via fiddler.

it is possible to change url in the browser address bar using javascript but by doing that browser has to request extra round trip ( browser redirect ) to server to get the data which will make entire experience slow.

there is no other way that you can change the url in browser addressbar to whatever you want without reaching the server otherwise that would be a most wildly use features by spammers and online-scams.

so in case of google maps the purpose of the Inline sharing URLs is to provide exact view later on to same user or to whom the oringal user has shared the link.

For youtube,

the screenshot you displayed does not show the whole story.

alt text

it only appears when you click on share button and that is meant to share that link on other social networking sites without leaving the youtube so its actually useful not redundant.

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You can change the URL using Javascript without incurring a server round-trip if you change the part after the #. This is what many apps do: adjust the hashcode, then check the hashcode on a timer (or on hashchange for new browsers). This adds history entries but does not communicate with the server. –  Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Dec 2 '10 at 15:55
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Google Maps probably doesn't use hashcode for changing the URL because there is lots of state involved in a map view and every time you make a tiny change it'd have to add a history entry. When you rolled your mouse wheel a few times to zoom, was that one change or three? Does that pan count as a change? How about the flags and pins you've adjusted? All of these things are constant changes of many variables, sometimes changing very rapidly. It'd be extremely impractical to have these changes appear in the history.

The could, perhaps, set a timer and wait for the map to settle down, then update the hashcode to the current view, but users might find it strange.

As for other sites, they might have unique URL sharing requirements that make copying and pasting the current URL sub-optimal. For example, a website I use has the current content available behind a paywall for the first week (or two). During that time only subscribers can see the new material. However, it's possible to send a free link to non-paid users. In that case the URL in your browser doesn't quite represent the same thing as the free link which is generated.

Since so many sites are using such link UIs for various reasons, it makes sense for consistency that other sites follow the pattern even if they have nothing specific to change in the link. But at least they can normalize the link and provide it in its most canonical format.

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