[tor-dev] User perception of the prop224 domain format

Philipp Winter phw at nymity.ch
Wed Sep 27 20:26:44 UTC 2017

We recently ran a survey on the usability of Tor and onion services [0].
I had a closer look at how our respondents perceive the prop224 domain
format and wanted to share some early insights.  The original survey
question was:

> The Tor Project is currently working on the next generation of onion
> services.  The new onion domain format will consist of 52 characters,
> for example:
> a1uik0w1gmfq3i5ievxdm9ceu27e88g6o7pe0rffdw9jmntwkdsd.onion
> Do you expect this to change your browsing habits?

591 users answered this question.  95 (16%) selected that prop224
domains will change their habits while the remaining 496 (84%) selected
that their habits won't be affected.

Respondents who believe that their habits will change (16%) gave the
following reasons:

- Several users memorise a number of onion domains -- most prominently
  Facebook's onion domain and self-hosted domains.  They write that
  memorising domains will no longer be possible, and they will look into
  bookmarking tools.  Several users voiced concern about the
  confidentiality of their bookmarks, so they are looking into ways to
  encrypt them.

- Similarly but less commonly, users voice concerns that communicating,
  typing, and writing down prop224 domains will no longer be feasible.

- A small number of users write that it will be harder to recognise
  onion domains.  Alarmingly, one user mentioned that the lack of a
  discernible prefix will make it hard to recognise genuine domains,
  suggesting that they rely on an onion domain's easy-to-spoof vanity

- A user suggested to add spaces to prop224 domains to "make the address
  more visually appealing."

Respondents who believe that their habits will *not* change (84%) gave
the following reasons:

- The majority of this crowd never bothered to memorise onion domains
  and uses bookmarks.  A bunch of users store domains in text files and
  an even smaller bunch uses search engines to rediscover domains.  In
  general, most people in this category treat onion domains as an opaque

- Some users write that the additional inconvenience is likely worth the
  extra security and anonymity.

- Some users mention Reddit as their primary way of discovering onion

Judging by the above, I believe that the new domain format is among the
minor usability issues surrounding onion services.  In fact, an
easy-to-remember domain format ranks last among the six criteria whose
importance we asked users about.  On a five-point Likert scale ranging
from "not at all important" to "very important," we got the following

- 77% think that quality of content is at least somewhat important.
- 70% think that a search engine (like Google) for onion services is at
  least somewhat important.
- 66% think that diversity of content is at least somewhat important.
- 62% think that page load time is at least somewhat important.
- 43% think that having an onion service version of popular services
  such as Facebook is at least somewhat important.
- 26% think that an easy-to-remember domain format is at least somewhat

However, our survey data is likely biased towards a particularly young
and educated crowd that's presumably less bothered by technological
hurdles, which may be why they can afford to care more about content.

[0] <https://blog.torproject.org/take-part-study-help-improve-onion-services>


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