Google contemplates disabling the backspace shortcut in Chrome

Google's Chrome browser is a dominant force in the web-browser market. According to NetMarketShare.com, Chrome holds about 43% of the browser market. Google has never been shy about using its dominant position to make changes to the way we use the web, from removing support for the aging NPAPI plugin model to tightening the noose on Flash-based content. Now, Google is considering making a more esoteric change. According to Engadget, some "Canary" versions of Chrome remove the ability to go back using the backspace key.

This move may seem like a strange choice, but Google is backing the decision up with some numbers. According to Google, only 0.04% of page views conclude with a backspace-as-back navigation, and 0.005% of page views come after a user has interacted with a table. These statistics seem to indicate that a significant percentage of backspace-as-back use is accidental, and could result in data loss.

If Google brings this change to mainstream releases of Chrome and turns it on by default, it's likely to be a hotly debated change among the minority of users that still rely on it. For right now, though, the change remains restricted to some of the more-beta-than-beta Canary builds, where Google tests potential new features. Google says it will be implementing this change as a flag, so Canary users who don't like the change can turn it off. 

Comments closed
    • squeeb
    • 4 years ago

    Didn’t even know this was a thing.

    • NeelyCam
    • 4 years ago

    Backspace as back sucks. Kill it with fire.

    I don’t even know how many times I’ve lost data while filling out forms, when I try to delete a typo by pressing backspace, and the browser going back to previous page, losing EVERYTHING.

      • Visigoth
      • 4 years ago

      Damn f*cking right! Nuke it from orbit just to make sure!

    • Prestige Worldwide
    • 4 years ago

    Instant uninstall.

    • BoilerGamer
    • 4 years ago

    As a Chrome Dev user on build 52.0.2739.0 dev-m (64-bit), can confirm this shortcut no longer works.

    • Shouefref
    • 4 years ago

    This looks like a much more sensible decision then removing the Start Button in Windows.
    Oh, but yes, Chrome is Google’s!

    • odizzido
    • 4 years ago

    As someone who actually uses backspace I don’t care. Just let us bind keys and call it a day.

    • MEATLOAF2
    • 4 years ago

    I’ve maybe used the backspace key a few dozen times for this purpose. Not a very useful shortcut considering I use FireGestures, and also have back/forward buttons on the side of my mouse that I use as my primary page navigation method.

    I’ve never accidentally lost data or anything with backspace, but I can see how easy a mistake that would be to make. I’m not against this change, but hopefully there will be a way to keep the shortcut for those that do use it.

    • MOSFET
    • 4 years ago

    I’ve always used Alt-Left and Alt-Right for quick nav in a browser. I never even knew backspace was an option, until now. It just doesn’t seem very intuitive to me.

    While we’re near the subject, anyone else find the lack of a right-click nav menu in Edge completely insufferable?

      • sweatshopking
      • 4 years ago

      In edge? no. I don’t use it much, but when i do, i use mouse gestures, which you can easily add to edge with an extension.

      • Ninjitsu
      • 4 years ago

      I’m the opposite, occasionally use backspace but never knew about alt+arrows.

      • DataMeister
      • 4 years ago

      I avoid Edge like the plague because of silly stuff like this throughout the browser. It’s like the programmers had never used a modern browser and were inventing a whole new software category for the first time; a generation 1, and version 1 product.

      Unfortunately it’s actually 15 years after everyone else did it.

      • colinstu12
      • 4 years ago

      Because “backspace” has been the back button in every browser since…………………forever.

      Also goes back in Explorer too. And it’s frustratingly not back in Finder.

    • tootercomputer
    • 4 years ago

    I’m not getting this – an article about a change in a single command in a browser? What is the big deal?

      • Wonders
      • 4 years ago

      I find this interesting from a UI perspective. Similar to the decision to remove the Caps Lock key from Chromebooks, but (potentially) impacting a much wider audience.

        • jihadjoe
        • 4 years ago

        WHAT? NO CAPSLOCK?! HOW CAN ANYONE USE THAT?

      • Redocbew
      • 4 years ago

      I wouldn’t have thought it a big deal either, but here we are with 30+ comments to the story. We nerds are nerdy.

    • ronch
    • 4 years ago

    Google Keyboard also updated recently on my Andy devices and… I dunno… it feels different.

    Google, if it aint broke, dont fix it. (See, it used to automatically put apostrophes there, but now it didnt.)

    • Kharnellius
    • 4 years ago

    Won’t be missed. We use quite a few interfaces at work through Chrome and it has screwed me up multiple times in incredibly frustrating ways!

    • not@home
    • 4 years ago

    I use the backspace key every time I want to go back. Good thing I use Firefox.

      • Wonders
      • 4 years ago

      You can avoid being forced to click out of a text field to go back by using the other shortcuts.

      • Rand
      • 4 years ago

      Firefox will be quick to copy Google with this, as they do everything.

    • pepe
    • 4 years ago

    I’m happy to see it. Been following the issue for a few years [url<]https://bugs.chromium.org/p/chromium/issues/detail?id=200049[/url<] (and lots of related issues -- it got opened more than once)

    • Wirko
    • 4 years ago

    I, for one, want Google to know how often I use the backspace key, and every other key for that matter. More importantly, I want Google to cloudily analyze the passwords I type into Chrome so it can warn me if they’re not strong enough.

    • derFunkenstein
    • 4 years ago

    Doesn’t seem like Ctrl+Backspace or Alt+Backspace do anything. That might be a good place to hide this “possibly handy” feature that so many folks use by accident.

      • DataMeister
      • 4 years ago

      Alt+ [left arrow] , already does it.

    • cygnus1
    • 4 years ago

    I don’t understand why they break it down to usage per page view. I would wager plenty of users don’t know the shortcut exists. If they checked stats on usage per user, that might be a little more relevant to deciding if it’s useful to even a small minority of users.

      • Voldenuit
      • 4 years ago

      Google got bored of supporting [s<]Google Answers, Lively, Reader, Deskbar, Click-to-Call, Writely, Hello, Send to Phone, Audio Ads, Google Catalogs, Dodgeball, Ride Finder, Shared Stuff, Page Creator, Marratech, Goog-411, Google Labs, Google Buzz, Powermeter, Real Estate, Google Directory, Google Sets, Fast Flip, Image Labeler, Aardvark, Google Gears, Google Bookmarks, Google Notebook, Google Code Search, News Badges, Google Related, Latitude, Flu Vaccine Finder, Google Health, Knol, One Pass, Listen, Slide, Building Maker, Meebo, Talk, SMS, iGoogle, Schemer, Notifier, Orkut, Hotpot, Music Trends, Refine, SearchWiki, US Government Search, Sparrow, Web Accelerator, Google Accelerator, Accessible Search, Google Video, Helpouts[/s<] Backspace, decides to cancel it.

        • cygnus1
        • 4 years ago

        This should be the new definition of googling something. It should mean dropping something just because.

        It’s hard to google carbs… or, damn, I wish I could google my taxes.

    • Froz
    • 4 years ago

    [quote<]According to Google, only 0.04% of page views conclude with a backspace-as-back navigation, and 0.005% of those are made after a user enters data in a form. Those statistics seem to indicate that a substantial percentage of backspace-as-navigation clicks are accidental, and some could be resulting in data loss.[/quote<] I think you got the numbers completely wrong, or at least you put it in a wierd way, for me. 1) To me it looks like 0.04% of the times users go back, they use backspace to do that. In your sentence it sounds like it's 0.04% of all page views. 2) Not "0.005% of those", but 0.005% in general. 0.005% of 0.04% would be extremely, extremely low. In reality it's 12.5% "of those", which is quite high. Source: [quote<]We have UseCounters showing that 0.04% of page views navigate back via the backspace button and 0.005% of page views are after a form interaction. The latter are often cases where the user loses data. Years of user complaints have been enough that we think it's the right choice to change this given the degree of pain users feel by losing their data and because every platform has another keyboard combination that navigates back.[/quote<] So, that means that only 0.04% of going back is by using backspace and 12.5% of that is most likely by mistake (maybe even more). Meaning almost noone is using backspace to go back on purpose and some people use it by mistake and end up losing data they entered in a form.

      • derFunkenstein
      • 4 years ago

      Yeah, I had a hard time parsing it all out, but came to the same 12.5% conclusion you did. Almost all of the “entered form data” ones this encompasses were unintentional, surely. And I’ve made plenty of backspace mistakes without entering data, so I also agree that 12.5% of backspaces would be a low number of mistakes.

      • hexr
      • 4 years ago

      You are right, I think I went cross-eyed reading it. It should be fixed now. If this interpretation is right, it surprises me that no one made this change sooner!

    • ozzuneoj
    • 4 years ago

    First world problems.

      • ludi
      • 4 years ago

      Nope. It’s also a third world problem:
      [url<]http://googleforeducation.blogspot.com/2014/12/schools-across-africa-introduce-new.html[/url<]

    • DancinJack
    • 4 years ago

    Good. They really should just remove it IMO.

    • bthylafh
    • 4 years ago

    Good. I’ve accidentally gone to a previous page more than once by hitting backspace because whatever text box I was typing in lost focus.

    • ludi
    • 4 years ago

    This has happened to me. The struggle is real!

    • Wildchild
    • 4 years ago

    Why not give the option for users to map their own shortcuts instead?

      • Pzenarch
      • 4 years ago

      … because of fragmentation. Standardised short-cuts are a useful feature of our connected, many-device world.

      You don’t want to go over to someone’s house, press F5 only to find that it brings up the history screen (I was only trying to refresh the screen, but I didn’t realise you liked THAT kind of site Alice!), or use the library PC to discover that some scoundrel has bound space-bar to close the window. By keeping the short-cuts common and bending ourselves to them, we can transfer the experience seamlessly between machines.

      With the exception of this case (which by the sound of it is being addressed by a toggle), can you think of a situation where it’d be useful?

        • DragonDaddyBear
        • 4 years ago

        I use backspace a lot. Alt + <– (left arrow) is annoying on small or non-standard keyboard layouts.

        Also, moving my hand to backspace is easier than finding two keys or dragging my mouse to the back arrow.

        I would like to see an option for keyboard shortcut junkies like me to keep it enabled.

          • bthylafh
          • 4 years ago

          The option is to install an extension, which exists.

            • brucethemoose
            • 4 years ago

            Or just use Vivaldi, which has configurable keyboard shortcuts, among other things, but is just Chromium underneath.

          • travbrad
          • 4 years ago

          The easiest one of all is just to get a mouse with a back button.

          I agree they should at least have an option to enable backspace though. It’s a bit weird how much they take the Apple approach with Chrome of “one UI to rule them all” and limiting user customization, yet android is fragmented and very customizable for a phone/tablet OS.

        • Zizy
        • 4 years ago

        You know, in this connected world, you can use syncing between devices, as well as logging in to your account as a guest (and logout + delete all data on exit).

      • auxy
      • 4 years ago

      Because if we give the user any control over our software they chose to install on their PC that they own, we lose!

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