I feel a bit bad about picking on Google Doctype's HTML on launch day. Having launched products at Google I know there's nothing more obnoxious than some know-it-all harping on some tiny problem with the product you've worked for a year to launch. But the irony of the problem was too much to let pass. It's fixed now, a plain ol' HTML link. Yay! Since I picked on Google's newest product let me pick next on their oldest product now; web search. And the ugly URLs it produces.

The first problem is the search page URLs are too big. If you go to the plain ol' google.com home page and search for "RFC 1738" in Firefox 3 or MSIE 7 you end up at here:

The q parameter is our search term, a lovely thing that belongs there. But what's the other stuff? hl specifies the language Google itself is in. Google already knows I speak English, why does it have to be in the URL? And the btnG is entirely superfluous. Why not just send me here?
So much simpler. Easier to email to other folks, cleaner to bookmark, cleaner to link to.

It gets worse. Here's the URL for the first search result:

Follow all that? Three completely mysterious parameters, an escaped version of the actual URL, and then three opaque blobs. What's all this garbage for? Why not just have a link to
Because of all the URL mucking I can't really use the URL on the Google results page. I can't simply copy the link destination or bookmark it; I have to click and go to the page itself. And whatever they're doing means I don't even go to the site when I click the link; I have to make an extra HTTP connection to google to get a redirect (250ms in the test I just ran).

The destination URLs only get rewritten in this way if I'm logged into my Google Account; with no google.com cookies you get clean URLs. I imagine there's some sort of clickthrough tracking or web search history maintenance or some other vaguely privacy-invading feature I've long since forgotten about. There's ways to do clickthrough tracking without redirecting URLs; why mess with links?

I realize writing this I'm dangerously close to self-parody by dissecting URL structures. Very few people will care, stuff still works when you click on it. But Google set a real standard for parsimony and speed in its web applications. It also has a unique understanding of the value of a simple HTML link. So it bugs me when they break stuff like that.

PS: to my friends at Google, no need to send me mail explaining why all this stuff is necessary. I still vaguely remember the explanations for most of it. My point is that from the outside, as a user who cares about simple HTML, all this extra stuff looks like harmful overhead.

  2008-05-16 15:40 Z