Human-readable URLs

By Deane Barker on November 5, 2002

I’ve always been a big believer in legible URLs. There’s nothing more annoying than a URL that stretches into hundreds of characters — ever tried to email one of those to a mail client that wraps at 76 characters? Additionally, I’ve written before about the need to support URL hacking.

When I wrote Vikings.com, we ended up asynchronously rendering the site into hard-coded HTML for performance and fault tolerance, but it had the added benefit of creating some really nice URLS, like http://www.vikings.com/Players/GregBiekert.htm instead of http://www.vikings.com/Player.asp?PlayerID=54. (Sadly, we didn’t address URL hacking here, given that I wrote this a long time ago. If you chop off the player’s name, you get “Directory Listing Denied.” Bad. I’m embarrassed.)

Here are some articles that address this same thing. Although one of them claims that search engines won’t index pages with querystring arguments (not true, in most cases), they make some good points.

Meaningful URLs
This is a great article that really sheds light on some handy uses for URLs. For instance:

“In Edward Tufte’s classic book The Visual Display of Quantitative Information (Great book — Deane), he coins the term chartjunk to refer to needless visual flourishes that contribute nothing to the effectiveness of an information design in communicating to its audience. These days, our URLs are loaded down with something very similar: long strings of characters that exist only to satisfy some technical constraint, detracting from the effectiveness of our URLs as communication tools.”

URL as UI
And from my good friend (well, I did meet him once…) Jakob Neilson, we have this:

“Do not use MiXeD case text in URLs since people can’t remember the difference between upper-case and lower-case characters: all-lowercase URLs are usually preferred (domain names are less of a problem since they are case-insensitive – usability would increase if webservers would ignore case in resolving URLs)

Oh, I so agree. How hard is it to use mod-rewrite on Apache to remove case-sensitivity from URLs? (If I owned the server on which this site is hosted, I’d do it here…)

Update: I found some notes on HealYourChurchWebSite.com (a great blog, BTW) on spoofing fake URLs then pulling dynamic content:
How to Succeed with URLs
mod_rewrite madness, Part One.

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Comments

  1. This would be a much more credible article if it wasn’t located at /post/38. Talk about your descriptive URL :)

  2. @Dragos: Yes, I see your point. The fact is, my views of URLs have changed a bit in the eight years since I wrote this. And, when I did write it, it had a much better URL… :-)

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