November 07, 2002

URLs Matter. A lot.

Jon's recent piece, "Web namespace design: de facto standards" really resonated with me, and I can almost completely blame it on work. Two separate and very different events transpired recently and both proved his point quite nicely. They're both related to a couple of Yahoo's most popular properties (that's the lingo we use to refer to, where "something" is a property like news, sports, mail, finance, and so on.)

Yahoo News

Like many tech companies before us, we have an internal mailing list that most of our engineers use for marginally work-related discussion. Most of the traffic, however, is generated by rants.

That's healthy. We all have complaints we like to get of our collective chests once in a while. Recently, in a discussion on the quality of the HTML we generate at Yahoo, someone brought up a related issue: our URLs. Why are some of them so long and ugly? Sure, some of them are short and sweet, but others are long and ugly. Very few of them are guessable URLs.

As most of our debates do, it raged for a bit and then degraded. But during the course of discussion, a few important points came up in favor of short, simple, guessable URLs:

  • Short URLs mail better. They don't wrap and break.
  • Short URLs are easy to read over the phone.
  • Short URLs can be memorized when used often enough.
  • Guessable URLs keep the hackers and geeks happy without affecting the 99.9% of normal users at all.

Sure, there are arguments against simple URLs, too. URLs are clicked, not typed. Most users don't care. It's not worth the extra engineering effort to make them short (whatever that means). And so on. But I personally find them all rather weak. They sound like justifications for being lazy.

Yahoo Finance

As you may be aware, we've been talking about changing some of our technology in Yahoo! Finance and using some new-fangled stuff.

In a recent meeting, we got to talking about how some of our URLs will be impacted by these changes. Obviously, we don't want to break URLs, but we may want to phase them out in favor of new ones--kind of like what we've been doing for (much to my chagrin).

We eventually realized that we were contemplating a change to the single most important URLs in the entire world of on-line Finance! Seriously. Everyone in the world (who cares) knows that if you need a sock quote for a ticker, like YHOO, you just need to visit and you're there.

Sure, most people just click and type YHOO in the search box on or :-)

But changing it is still a very big deal. Many, many other web sites link to their own financial information on Yahoo! Finance. Search engines like Google will take you there if you search for a ticker. Desktop applications do it too.

As you'd expect, we're not changing it. Ever. It'd be stupid. There's no reason at all to do it. It's too easy to have our servers honor that URL for eternity.

But the larger discussion around this change dealt with an attempt to better structure the less popular URLs on our site. Many of us were arguing to make the URLs just a bit longer (one character, in most cases) to introduce a bit of a namespace where there isn't an obvious one today. (There is one, but it's not at all obvious unless you know way too much about the folks who run Yahoo Finance.)

The bulk of the argument boiled down to roughly something like this:






That's right. We spent a long, long time arguing about the difference between a slash ('/'), or question mark ('?'). And we argued passionately for our favorites.

#1 is "traditional" Yahoo Finance. Notice many of our links look like that. #2 is "traditional" with an added slash to make it look like there's some semblance of a namespace at work. And #3 is a carry-over from the pages hosted on, like this one.

The Decision

I'm not going to say. Yet. It'll become obvious in the not-too-distant future. But what I'd like to know to satisfy my own curiosity is this: Which one do you prefer? And why?

Later I'll explain my bias and rationale. :-)

Posted by jzawodn at 10:50 PM

I've been Consumed

Thanks to Jon for pointing out All Consuming. Here's my blog in their service. Notice, however, that the screen shot is of my home page rather than by blog. I'm not sure why that is.

Posted by jzawodn at 09:37 PM is broken


I'm trying to buy a ticket to Peter Gabriel's "Growing Up" concert at the Comapq Center in San Jose on Dec 15th. But the site is sending me in loops. It keeps making me put in my e-mail address and password. (See the login box at the bottom of the screenshot?) It's quite frustrating. I'd hate to have to like pick up the phone and talk to a human.

I guess I'll try again in the morning. Well, later in the morning.

I went to his Secret World Live concert back in 1993 and really enjoyed it. I'm glad to read that he'll be playing some of his classic stuff as well as tunes from the new album, because I like his old stuff quite a bit more.

Update: Strangely, it worked fine in Mozilla 1.2. Oh, well. At least I've got a ticket to the show now.

Posted by jzawodn at 01:32 AM