People can’t remember URLs

Via an interesting article that reminds us all that “most searched” lists are PR driven, not data driven, “Business 2.0 BETA blog network” is this comment:

“They’re using search engines as navigation, typing website names or even URLs into the search box that automatically pops up in their browser.”

It’s a funny thing to me to watch people do that. They can’t remember an URL, even a short one, so they use search to find a place that they’ve even been to many times. A primary example for this is watching someone I know look for the This American Life page. Instead of remembering that This American Life is at or thinking to head to the Public Radio International website … it’s easier for most users to skip over to yahoo and do a search for “This American Life” and sort through the results.

This kind of searching behaviour is, I suppose, similar to how I now behave with own documents. I use google to search through the papers I’ve posted to my website, and I use spotlight to search through the documents on my machine, and even use spotlight to get to applications instead of going through the finder.

But, it’s interesting to me that I retain information about actual URLs. For example, I still remember that the URL for Ultima Online is even though I haven’t played that game since … when? Nine years ago? Or, that the old URL for O’Reilly was (which gave me a turn because they appear to have given that up, because it’s now some Japanese site.)

I think from a user standpoint, the URL address bar should simply be a search input. I really don’t like the way that new browsers separate the address and search inputs. Why should a user have to pre-parse their input and decide which field to use? I realize that I miss the autosearch feature from IE, which is a bit of a shock to care about IE at all, but using a question mark in the address field turned the input into a search. That was nice. In Firefox, I can set up a keyword “?” which does a google search. Why can’t I do this in Safari’s address field? (Apparently, there’s an add-on that does add keywords, extending Safari, in the way that the old was extended on NeXT, called Saft, but it costs money.)