URl as UI - a bad example from the real world

Published: 2007-09-16 14:04 UTC. Tags: software world wide web

In todays issue of Dagens Nyheter, the largest morning paper in Sweden, an article about pensions caught my eye, not so much because of the subject, but because of the URLs they referred to in the article. Here are the three URLs they referred to:

The first one is OK from a user interface perspective, but the second and the third one made me chuckle, especially as the second one actually had a note which freely translated went something like "Note that four underline characters are needed for the direct link to work".

Clearly, the people who designed this web site have not read neither Jakob Nielsen's "URL as UI" nor W3C's "Cool URIs don't change". I guess they never thought about being referred to from a newspaper in print where people actually have to type their URLs into their web browser.

Dagens Nyheter tries to make the situation better by providing a link to their online version of the article at dn.se/pensionskryss, which indeed makes it a bit easier for the readers to click the links. Sadly, the webmasters of Dagens Nyheter haven't done their homework either - the link is just a redirect to the article, which has this beautful URL: http://www.dn.se/DNet/jsp/polopoly.jsp?d=547&a=692119. So, let's say that you saved a bookmark to the article, and want to refer a friend of yours by word of mouth a week later when you have forgotten that there was a human-friendly link available - now you must send the link via e-mail or other electronic media. Simply telling your friend over the phone is completely impossible, which it would not have been if the link were something like http://www.dn.se/ekonomi/2007/09/16/pension.

Oh well.. the world is far from perfect. Happily, at work, we're using a content management system that automatically creates URLs that look nice: Plone.
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Comment by Magnus Runesson

Created Sun, 16 Sep 2007 15:34:43 +0000

I agree that simple URL:s are a bless. Unfortunately, when using Polopoly, as DN does, you loose. You can make an alias that is a simple URL, like http://www.dn.se/ekonomi/2007/09/16/pension, if you do several extra steps at publishing time. But, a big but, it rewrites to http://www.dn.se/DNet/jsp/polopoly.jsp?d=547&a=692119 so the visitor never sees the pretty URL, all intra-website navigation uses the bad URL:s, and you must know that there is an alias.

It would be nice if creators of CMS-software read Nielsen's work and provided solutions that displayed simple URL:s to the visitor.

Comment by Erik Forsberg

Created Sun, 16 Sep 2007 15:55:27 +0000

I think you are only half correct - the latest version of Polopoly (9, I think) seems to be able to do intra-website navigation with nice URLs. I know http://www.liu.se uses Polo.. Polly-Polly, and their site seems do to the right thing, although with extra work.

Speaking of Polopoly, I've heard an evil rumour that there is no supported upgrade path from version 8 to version 9.

Comment by Magnus Runesson

Created Sun, 16 Sep 2007 17:25:47 +0000

The rumor is true, there are no supported upgrade path from 8 to 9

I wounder how LiU have solved the URL-handling? I want to fix the same problem at SMHI.se when I start working on the next generation of the site. (I have not been involved with the current site.)

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