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

From: Anne L. Washington <washingtona@acm.org>
Date: Thu, 11 Nov 2010 17:22:37 -0500 (EST)
To: David Pullinger <David.Pullinger@coi.gsi.gov.uk>
cc: "washingtona@acm.org" <washingtona@acm.org>, "chris@e-beer.net.au" <chris@e-beer.net.au>, "rachel.flagg@gsa.gov" <rachel.flagg@gsa.gov>, Hugh Barnes <Hugh.Barnes@nehta.gov.au>, W3C e-Gov IG <public-egov-ig@w3.org>
Message-ID: <alpine.DEB.1.00.1011111659390.22479@anneasus>

Nice to meet you directly. I'm already familiar with your work.  John 
Sheridan and I talked extensively about handles while we were both 
implementing them a few years ago.

Because the UK has created, maintained and committed to an archive of 
government websites, that choice was available. We don't have the same 
here in the U.S.  In my mind, all egov technology suggestions have to 
include that level of detail to understand the context of what is 

As evidenced by the UK Website Archive and the Library of Congress 
examples, there are many structural and organizational reasons that lead 
to one technology over the other. This is particularly true within 
governments where there is little flexibility in changing people and 

I invite more discussion about the technology structures
that impact eGov decisions!

Anne L. Washington
Standards work - W3C egov
Academic work - George Washington University

On Thu, 11 Nov 2010, David Pullinger wrote:

> Anne,
> Nice to hear of what you've done in Library of Congress.  In UK 
> Government I also looked at use of handles and I had a number of 
> discussions and ran some tests of this.  In the end John Sheridan and I 
> went with idea of creating a UK Government Website Archive and a 
> redirection tool that would take the reader to the URL in the Archive if 
> not active in the original location. This means (theoretically) that 
> there should be no broken links.
> The main reason for the decision was because of the distributed nature 
> of government and recognising we were more likely to get better buy-in 
> from lots of people tweaking their system set up (to include the 
> redirection tool and enabling spiders to crawl for archive) rather than 
> trying to get them all to adopt the process of moving to handles.
> Regards,
> David
> David Pullinger
> Head of Digital Policy
> david.pullinger@coi.gsi.gov.uk
> 020 7261 8513
> 07788 872321
> -----Original Message-----
> From: public-egov-ig-request@w3.org [mailto:public-egov-ig-request@w3.org] On Behalf Of Anne L. Washington
> Sent: 10 November 2010 22:44
> To: chris@e-beer.net.au; rachel.flagg@gsa.gov; Hugh Barnes; David Pullinger
> Cc: W3C e-Gov IG
> Subject: RE: Does the user care about URLs? (another thread from Re: Censorship?)
> Rachel, Chris, Hugh,
> Just had to toss in on this one.
> First, Internet search works in large part because of page-rank... how 
> many other pages point to this URL? If that continues to be part of search 
> algorithms, government needs to pay attention to its URL structures.
> Second, URLs are visible provenance for a web page.
> The term provenance is used to describe the ownership, context and source 
> of a physical document in an archive. Until there is some other obvious, 
> simple way to determine that you've arrived at your destination, URLs will 
> continue to be very important. Phishing wouldn't work if it weren't for 
> the face validity given to URLs.
> There is great backend significance for not only persistent but logical 
> URLs. Building a system where every past and future object follows a logic 
> location pattern makes a programmer's life much easier.
> Now in full disclosure, I developed the persistent URLs for legislation 
> when I was at the Library of Congress. The Library uses handles, the 
> general technology that supports the DOI system. The handle can resolve to 
> any URL. The handle URL is the front facing URL leaving the backend system 
> freedom to change URLs and file structures at anytime if necessary.
> So instead of looking for the wonderful bill Rachel mentioned at
> http://www.govtrack.us/congress/billtext.xpd?bill=h111-946
> The same bill can be seen, persistently and with some provenance
> http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.uscongress/legislation.111hr946
> There is room for improvement in that syntax.
> However, institution that has long-term responsibility 
> for the data is also supporting a long term pointer to it.
> Anne L. Washington
> Standards work - W3C egov 
> Academic work - George Washington University
> http://home.gwu.edu/~annew/
> On Wed, 10 Nov 2010, Hugh Barnes wrote:
>> [ 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.
>> Cheers
>> 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
>> 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.
>> On a related note, did you see that the US Govt has passed the Plain
>> Writing Act of 2010, requiring US Federal Govt agencies to use “writing
>> that is clear, concise, well-organized and follows best practices
>> appropriate to the subject or field and intended audience”
>> Read the text of the Act here:
>> http://www.govtrack.us/congress/billtext.xpd?bill=h111-946
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Received on Thursday, 11 November 2010 22:23:22 UTC

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