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RE: Does the user care about URLs? (another thread from Re: Censorship?)

From: Hugh Barnes <Hugh.Barnes@nehta.gov.au>
Date: Wed, 10 Nov 2010 15:18:42 +1000
Message-ID: <9C97313A93F9ED4EB9DE60C7AFDC142C0126E960@BNE3-0001EBCLV1.exchange.server-login.com>
To: <rachel.flagg@gsa.gov>
Cc: <chris@e-beer.net.au>, "W3C e-Gov IG" <public-egov-ig@w3.org>
[ Sent this a few hours back (0201 UTC), thought I had Mike's problem, but seems I trimmed the recipient addresses too keenly. Take two! ]


Great to see you still around, Rachel :)

>	Hi Chris - thanks for the thought-provoking questions below about "does the user care?".... 

I didn't have a clue about a very large chunk of this thread to this point. Hopefully I've been the only one puzzled by its purpose. Now, thanks to Rachel for pointing it out, I can comment on a small part I'd missed.
>	URL/URI structure IS important on the back-end, to help us do a better 
>job managing our information.  A good Info Architecture helps you 
>organize, categorize & manage your information, but I don't think end 
>users care about it

I think *most* users don't *think* they care about it, but they probably care about some of the benefits it brings them unnoticed.

Let's talk about persistent, deterministic URIs:

* visited links show as such (as long as they weren't styled out, grr..)
* caching *should* work
* users know their bookmarks/links/bibliographic citations will continue to work and point to the same resource

But this isn't about persistence and probably very few here doubt its benefits.

It *is* closely related to other good practices, which include the next list of benefits – namely systematic and descriptive URI patterns:

* on the address bar, though most browsers will search the history for page titles these days too, which is handy, URIs provide another hook for address bar discovery
* when shared, descriptive URIs provide strong cues about the content and permit trust (contrast with, e.g. bit.ly)
* URLs appearing in print make that little bit more sense ("I should look that one up when I get back online")
* search engines rightly weight them highly, along with important markup elements
* they can be marketed or read out more easily over the phone, on radio, or on television (pronouncability)
* they have more chance of being remembered (have you ever seen an interesting URL outside but couldn't make a note of it?)
* users can, over a slow period of indoctrination :), start to "get" URIs as structured information paths, not as something "techy" beyond their reach
* conventions like {department}.gov/about or /contact or /publications across government sites, when followed and known, can be hugely beneficial shortcuts (principle of least surprise)

Advanced users (which are not "most" users, but actually an influential group):

* tweak URLs, like version numbers, dates, or query keywords, or adding "/feed"
* dislike system information in the URI, like "joomla" or "/default.aspx" because they know it'll change when the new CMS is implemented and also because they are less likely to remember those details (if they do it's a waste of space!). (That means they're less likely to link or reference a URI, which in turn affects most users.)
* will truncate URLs when they get a 404 (etc.) for some reason – we love it when this comes together
>	They might care about the domain that comes up in search results -- to verify that the site they want to click on is "trusted" -- but as long as people can go to Google or Bing & find what they are looking for, I don't think they care about URI. 
Yes, good search engines certainly have changed the bookmark and URI recall landscape, but not reduced them to insignificance.

I sense a disturbing antagonism toward good practice URLs these days based on the premise they don't really mean anything to most people (which is conditionally true). It's often also driven (IMHO) in a very narrowly focussed way by microblogging. There's some truth to it, but it's just not that simple. I would be sad to see a long-held best architectural practice discarded. I think government resources can and should lead in this respect.

Good discussion BTW, Chris, I look forward to seeing if there's more to say.


Hugh Barnes
Technical Interface Specialist
nehta – National E-Health Transition Authority
Address:      Level 2, 10 Browning St, West End, QLD, 4101
Phone:        +61 7 3023 8537
Mobile:       +61 417 469 552
Email:        hugh.barnes@nehta.gov.au
Web:          http://www.nehta.gov.au

Received on Wednesday, 10 November 2010 05:21:44 UTC

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