File Under: Web Basics

Mozilla Questions Web Orthodoxies With ‘Pancake’

Mozilla Labs has launched a new project designed to question the web as we know it, including what some might think of as the web’s sacred cows — like whether or not we need to see URLs.

Pancake, as the new project is known, will help Mozilla, “better understand what people do on the web, why and how they do those things, and how we can make those things easier and more efficient.” The goal of Pancake according to Mozilla’s new, awesomely titled Director of Pancake Stuart Parmenter, is to play with “huge concepts, monumental problems and occasionally crazy ideas.”

Among the ideas in Pancakes’ sights that many might consider crazy is questioning whether users need to care about the URL. Note that no one is questioning the URL itself, just whether or not the user needs to be concerned with it. Indeed Pancake won’t be the first time Mozilla has questioned whether or not the user needs to know about URLs, nor is Mozilla alone on that score, Google’s Chrome team has also experimented with hiding the URL bar.

Might there be some better means of letting the user know where they are, where a link leads and all the other things URLs currently do? That’s exactly the sort of question that Pancake wants to ask. We’ll never know the answer, and possibly never push the web in interesting new directions, if no one is asking the question.

If you consider the URL bar a sacred part of the web browser, fear not, no one is taking way your URL bar. The goal of Pancake is not to force anything down your throat, but to make the web better. That might mean, as Parmeter writes, “inventing new metaphors and new systems,” but the main goal of those new metaphors and systems is to “give users greater power and control within the modern web.”

In that sense it’s difficult to tell exactly what Mozilla plans to do with Pancake. In the immediate future Pancake will be rolling out its first prototype app, but the announcement is extremely vague about what that app might involve. Historically Labs projects are a very mixed bag. For every very successful Labs effort — like the syncing features that are now a standard part of Firefox — there are several others that have been quietly shelved (Ubiquity anyone? Prism?).

Pancake’s first prototype app — whatever it may be — will be released within the next few months. In the mean time you can check out the new wiki page or join the Pancake Google Group. All the other usual Labs pages — documentation, roadmap, designs and other content — will come in the weeks ahead.