Chrome seems to have been the first to start hiding the http:// prefix last year, and there seemed to be significant contention. Rather than show the full prefix chrome lops off http:// and displays the "meaningful" part of the URL to the user. Here are examples from the latest Chrome and Firefox, contrasted with IE8 which does not remove the prefix:

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A lot of the reasoning against removing the bar seemed to be questions of implimentation: How would users know they're on https/ftp protocols, and what would happen when I copy an address with no http://? Chrome and firefox solve the first by showing all non-http:// protocols (as they're the vast minority of cases) like this:

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Chrome and firefox also add the http:// prefix when you copy the URL, so when pasting it to send to another user the link they send is sent in full. Popular sites like Twitter and Stack Exchange have begun to hide the prefix when posting URLs as well as they're not needed.

It seems to me the http:// prefix is excess technobabble for the normal user; for years we've suffered through radio and TV ads telling us to visit h-t-t-p-colon-backslash-backslash-website name... (even though they're slashes). Even the creator of http contends the double slash is a pain in the butt.

Almost all web interaction in-browser is now done though http://, the ftp/ect protocols are almost completely transparent to the end user, usually done through a nice front end that hides the protocols. Is there any good reason to display the prefix anymore? Which popular applications still do make it a point to always include the http:// and why?

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    backslash? I hope you haven't ever been saying "backslash". "Backslash" is \, "forward slash" or generally just plain "slash" is /. Oct 21 '11 at 12:05
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    If you note my parenthesis I state that they're slashes, when I hear people on radio or TV ads I swear half the time they say "backslash backslash"
    – Ben Brocka
    Oct 21 '11 at 13:11
  • I can't convey my shudder well enough in text. I don't have a TV and I only very occasionally overhear radio, but I can't say I've ever come across "backslash" being used in any context with URLs; or for that matter mentioning the http:// at all in spoken content in ads (in Melbourne, Australia). Oct 21 '11 at 13:20
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    – Ben Brocka
    Oct 21 '11 at 13:21
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    (Apologies, by the way, for I did not read fully. That's a problem when commenting becomes too easy. You comment before reading it all. And it is a real problem! And even UX related!) Oct 21 '11 at 13:22

I think it's about time URLs in general got abstracted out of sight of ordinary users. Most people couldn't care less about this dotted syntax, the TLDs, the sub-domains, not to mention the protocol part. It's too bad that the current state of technology doesn't offer a superior alternative.

Your aunt doesn't care about URLs. If she even knows which site she wants to visit, then all she cares about is the name (e.g. Facebook). That, with a logo/icon, is all users every really want to see.

It's too bad that identity and security are so entangled with URLs. Maybe with time everything will turn into "apps"; your browser will become the OS - it will curate your trusted sites, showing nothing but the name.

  • The funny thing is my theoretical aunt here is the person who most uses the http:// prefix as they don't know better. The less technical the user is the more likely they've been trained to use the exact full address as that's what used to be expected, but it's no longer the case.
    – Ben Brocka
    Oct 20 '11 at 14:31
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    Your aunt is a prime phishing target, then. Until spoofing sites gets harder people need to at least have ready access to the real URL, regardless of what is displayed by default. Oct 21 '11 at 15:27
  • I agree with the phishing comment above.
    – PhillipW
    Oct 21 '11 at 19:25
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    As a sidenote, having the visible, explicit URLs is kind of a fluke anyway. (Though a lucky fluke, if you ask me.) Tim Berners Lee actually meant to abstract them out already in the beginning: "I had assumed, as an absolute pre-condition, that nobody would have to do HTML or deal with URLs" quote Oct 27 '11 at 7:25
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    People are so unaware of how URLs work, many type the URL into Google because they think that's how the Internet works. Check your analytics and you'll see your URL as top search term.
    – Taj Moore
    Nov 16 '11 at 22:40

I think you create the least user confusion by being explicit -- always, to be consistent, rather than only when you think they need it. Compare this to the question of removing versus graying out imapplicable menu items; I'm no expert but am under the impression that the consensus is to gray out for discoverability. So, too, with protocols -- help the user discover that there are things other than http, like https, which might prompt him to investigate why that matters (which is good).

If you hide part or all of a URL (removing the protocol as you suggest, removing the whole URL in favor of a friendly name as suggested in another answer), there should at least be a configuration option to show full URLs. People might choose that out of pure preference, or for security-consciousness, or because they can't see the little lock icon with their screen readers, or for reasons I haven't thought of yet.

  • I do like your point, but web browser is for browsing the web, which really pretty much always happens over http (or it's secure version, which has other indications), all other cases being a rare exception. Based on that, it seems logical and consistent to keep it out of sight. I don't see much more reason for displaying the "http" than for displaying the actual IP address of the site instead of DNS. Oct 27 '11 at 7:21
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    @IlariKajaste, if browsers displayed something distinctive for each of http and https I'd agree, but "absence of a lock" and "lock" isn't the same thing. "Open lock" and "closed lock" would satisfy that. (But we still need to deal with people who can't see the icon.) Oct 27 '11 at 15:21
  • Good point. Agreed. Oct 27 '11 at 17:51

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