Hiding versus revealing

On the Loosely Coupled weblog, Phil Wainewright posted an item entitled Bring down the walls which, though flattering, makes my current column sound more adversarial than I believe it is. Phil writes:

Heaven forbid, after all, that anyone should be able to link to Google's, or Amazon's, or any other provider's URI in ways that the system's designers hadn't originally thought of. That might lead to — horror of horrors — unintended consequences. [ Loosely Coupled]

As with everything else, there's a continuum from opacity to transparency, and tradeoffs all along the way. Hiding information is an important principle, and so is revealing it. Perhaps it boils down to this: when you're dealing with a URI, it is simply not feasible to hide it, or to hide parts of it. It's like giving a hoe to somebody and saying: "You can look at the business end of the handle and the blade, but pretend you don't see the first three feet of the handle." It's just not possible. The URI is part of the user interface.

Or should be. Apple's Safari, interestingly, shows what happens when a browser doesn't acknowledge that fact. There's no status bar for previewing the URI. I never realized how much I depended on that preview until it was gone. All sorts of important cues, which contextualize the link I might or might not click, are now missing.

Information hiding will always be a key strategy, but some kinds of things can't and shouldn't be hidden, and URI semantics -- in my view -- happen to fall into that category.

Update. Simon Fell reminds me that Safari has a status bar, it's just off by default. The View menu toggles it back on. Thanks for the correction, Simon! (Moral: never write about your Mac when sitting at your PC.) Of course, given the number of Windows PCs still running at 640x480 display resolution, one has to wonder how many people will discover and exercise that option...

Former URL: http://weblog.infoworld.com/udell/2003/01/17.html#a575