Michael D. Eisner College of Education

at California State University, Northridge

All times are UTC - 8 hours

Posted: Mon Feb 27, 2012 9:22 am
If you snoop around the various COE websites you may begin to notice an emerging trend: the use of long, descriptive URLs as opposed to shorthand (eg: http://www.csun.edu/education/bilingual-authorization/ vs http://www.csun.edu/education/bilauth/.

We are so used to seeing shortened URLs that it's become not only what we expect to see, but also "the right thing" to do. However, this represents a convention that once made sense technically and mentally, but has now become outdated by advances in technology and the way people use it.

In the early days of the internet, when the populations of website publishers and viewers were both almost monolithically programmers/computer professionals, it was most common for one to directly access a website by, for example, typing the URL into the address bar of their chosen browser. In the very early days, we didn't even have attractive domains names (such as http://www.csun.edu), but would instead have to enter the IP address of the computer that hosted the web server you were looking for (such as http://130.166.238.195/). In this regime, it made sense for URLs to be as short as possible, even if they were unintelligible to people who did not already know the abbreviation. This type of shorthand is commonplace for programmers, who must juggle many variable names and parameters at once, swiftly typing them into their code line by line. It also represents the more exclusive and disconnected nature of early websites.

Now, fast forward to 2012. How many of you regularly type a website address directly into your browser, rather than clicking on a link from your favorite search engine or aggregator page? Even more poignantly, how many of you will actually use Google, for instance, to access websites that you readily know the URL to (like http://www.csun.edu), but find it easier to pull up a common portal and type in "csun"? What this illustrates is the fact that the internet is becoming more and more interconnected as time goes on, with data constantly being indexed and made available to you via a few simple keywords. In today's web access regime, it makes more sense for URLs to contain natural language, increasing the chances that those pages will be brought up with a user searches for related keywords. Also, it helps to know here that certain characters (such as the '/' slash and the '-' dash) are considered word separators by search engines, and thus http://www.csun.edu/education/web-development/ starts to make a lot more sense than http://www.csun.edu/educ/webdev/.

That said, there is still a place for URL shorthand, it's now just more logical for those links to act as aliases, or web shortcuts to the underlying source page with it's semantically meaningful naming convention.

Look for more updates in the future as I try to keep our site up with, and even ahead of, the times.
Thanks for reading.
Ian
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