Desktop Browser Sharing – the End of an Era

by on February 24, 2022

I noticed today (well, last week – it’s taken me this long to write it) that my Chrome browser had been updated with a new feature that puts the ability to share in the address bar. I want to pause to record this particular development, because I think it’s unusually significant and – in a way – frustrating.

Screenshot of the Chrome Whats New page

The end of an era

For perhaps about 15 years during the rise of the social networks, the page and layout design of what might generally be termed “content rich websites” would always include some kind of discussion and minor agonies relating to the position, composition and value (both for users and the business) of the “sharing icons” on the page. Here are some examples from The Guardian and Tes.com:

Screenshots of sharing icons

This discussion and tiresome angst also applied to “print this page” icons. But these faded away as people became familiar with their browser’s “File > Print” menu (which menu item had always existed I think).

The existence of File > Print in the browser always used to annoy us. Why, we asked, didn’t brower manufacturers do the same with sharing as they did for printing? The cumulative number of man hours spent poring over issues of styling (at one point, Facebook and Twitter were mandating a certain visual style, for example), screen positioning, and inclusion (which icons and functions?) was huge.

As an aside, some of the design angst associated with these “sharing icons” was also related to whether people knew or understood the concept of “following” the site using what looked like a very similar device on the page. Here for example on Slashdot:

Screenshot of "follow" icons on Slashdot.org

Suffice to say, the work of a web designer is not straightforward.

But to return to the main topic….

Eventually, browser-based sharing appeared on mobile. This was good, but at the time (perhaps 2010?), mobile traffic was still relatively low compared to desktop. So we struggled on with in-page sharing.

Now, at long last, sharing is on the desktop. But I have to ask: WHAT TOOK THEM SO LONG?

The history of user experience design is studded with this kind of weirdness, and I think this is a good example.

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