The Importance of the URI

Posted on April 18th, 2011 by Nick Jackson

During the course of Linking You we’ve spent a lot of time looking at URI structures and how they could be improved to variously be faster to type, easier to guess and clearer to understand. We’ve have a peek at hierarchical structures and flat structures, and we’ve debated if people need to know what “socs” means, and if it’s better or worse than “computing”. The thing which amazed me most, however, was when we sat down with a few people and had a discussion about how a new URI structure could click with a proposed redevelopment. One line of conversation stood out for me:

Are addresses even important? Surely we’ll just tell everyone to go to lincoln.ac.uk and click from there.

This concerned me enough that I felt the need to write a quick post about it.

A URI can technically be used purely as a ‘click to’ point on the internet. There’s nothing stopping us putting a page on courses in the School of Computing at lincoln.ac.uk/bcwi83b. You plug it into a link, people click the link and off you go. Technically this is sound, but only in the same sense that you can technically address a letter to something like “10, SW1A 2AA”1. Yes it’s compact and yes it works, but it conveys absolutely nothing in terms of context. It’s also a real pain to remember, and requires you to use additional bits of your brain if you’re ever writing it down for later reference or typing it into a browser address bar.

Imagine for a second that we send out a prospectus with the following:

Find out more about Computing at http://lincoln.ac.uk/bcwi83b

And then compare it with a ‘human’ address:

Find out more about Computing at http://lincoln.ac.uk/school/computing

Now, try to remember the first one without looking at it.

I rest my case.

  1. If you’re not up to speed on your postcodes, it’s 10 Downing Street []

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One Response to “The Importance of the URI”

  1. Profile photo of Joss Winn Joss Winn says:

    Have you seen Paul Walk’s post:
    http://blog.paulwalk.net/2010/09/21/institutions-and-the-web-done-better/

    In particular for this project, see point 4 on URIs.

    I like his conclusions, too:

    * think in terms of information entities, identifiers and relationships, as well as pages
    * integrate into the wider Web by re-using existing identifiers and by linking to other information
    * realise that developers are a potentially important stakeholder in any modern website