Throughout history there have been people who only saw things as they wanted them to be. People with strongly held beliefs whose values guided their actions be they counter-productive, detrimental, or worse just plain wrong; nothing mattered but to believe the world was as they wanted it to be. And it’s not just those from the past that are guilty; nay it seems that people the world over are now more ideological than any period in my own lifetime. I’ve give many examples, but whatever examples I gave I’d be sure to offend over half of my readers!
It’s probably pretty obvious that I’m talking mostly about war and religion in the above but it’s also sad to see the same from technologists. Case in point: the creators of DabbleDB and the Seaside Framework. There is an unfortunate school of thought among some web developers that Avi Bryant evidently shares that clean URLs are simply not important, that they are just the obsession of overly pendantic developers pursing unimportant elegance. And those opinions are often rationalized by statements like these (on Mike Pence‘s blog) that clearly exhibit confirmation bias:
“I have not had one single person ever mention in Dabble DB that the URL’s look funny. People are used to it. If you go to Amazon.com, the URL’s have all kinds of opaque identifiers in them. It is just not something that the average user cares about. I think it becomes an obsession for developers to have this sense of having a clean API exposed by their web application, but I think you can have a clean API that does not have to include every single page in your app, and I don’t think that every single page in your app has to be bookmarkable. I think that as long as a bookmark gets you back, roughly, to where you wanted to be, or for really crucial things to have permalinks, then you are fine.”
Well I guess Ari can’t say that anymore (that he hasn’t had one single person complain about DabbleDB’s URLs.)
That said, why would Ari believe URLs to be unimportant anyway? There is significant evidence all over the web that URLs are important, not the least of which has been document on this blog in the past. As best I can tell Ari’s regrettable belief occurs because of his desire to be unburdened from dealing with web architecture so that he can hoist highly stateful web apps onto an unknowning and unsuspecting public simply because that’s what Ari values. Basically Ari chooses to ignore the importance of URL design for both users and good web architecture and have his framework emit simply awful URLs simply because doing so makes coding and using his server-side framework so much easier. That’s similar to someone not addressing the unfortunate necessity of security simply because dealing with security is a PITA. (BTW, Amazon’s URLs are some of the worst and they only get away with it because of their early momentum. They are NOT a good example to emulate.)
So you see DabbleDB exhibits some very clear examples of really bad URLs. To see for myself I created a free trial account over at DabbleDB, which gave me my own well-designed URL (itself, not bad):
Next I created an application called “Sites” and a first “category” that I named “Domains” (evidently in DabbleDB parlance a “category” is like a table to us relational database types.) This gave me the following URL:
Not bad, but the “/dabble/” is unnecessary, the “view” could have been defaulted, and the “_k” is, well, is so gratuitous I doubt I need even further criticize it. Clearly what I would have preferred to see is this:
Or at least:
And I believe anyone would be hard pressed to explain why the actual URL DabbleDB uses is better or why the URL I proposed would not be workable. Still, all is not so bad to this point because it appears DabbleDB will respond appropriately to:
Of course anyone bookmarking the URL vs. composing the URL for a blog will be linking to two different URLs as per web architecture, which has its own perils for the owner of the website. (I’m of course assuming public URLs for this use-case which is possible via DabbleDB Commons, itself having a great URL of http://dabbledb.com/commons, but many usability problem still exist in closed environments how most DabbleDB databases will be used.)
But matters get much worse when we drill down into the “Domains” category I created. Compare the following two URLs and guess which one I envisioned vs. the one Dabble generated:
And if we click on the name of the domain “welldesignedurls.org“, if gets even worse:
Again, I would have liked to have seen:
Why is this important? Because cognition of the meaning of the URL is used in a significant number of contexts by humans, often in the context of where only recognition (vs. URL construction) is important. In email, in the browser history list, in older bookmarks, on printed communication, and more. By analogy imagine how much harder computers would be to use if users had no choice but to always navigate the tree structure of a deeply nested directory instead of simply copying and pasting the path from, for example, Windows’ Explorer or the Mac’s Finder to an Open File dialog. Just imagine what it would be like if a path to the user’s directory was named “
There are still further cases where clean URL design is important. For bloggers composing their links having the ability to learn a link structure rather than having to navigate to each page they want to link (such as on Wikipedia) is invaluable. For marketers wanted to convey a location in advertising for their customers and prospects to visit. And especially for users of web that are heavily data-oriented where users are involved in editing, navigating to, and communicating various application states (a.k.a. web pages) to their colleagues, such as an app like DabbleDB. If ever there was a category of web apps where good clean URL design is critical, it would be online databases!
So NO Ari, URL Design IS important. I hope you can learn this and make changes to DabbleDB and Seaside before it’s too late for you, and worse, for your users.
- 1.) How ironic Avi would name his blog “HREF Considered Harmful” as HREFs are truly one of the core foundations of web architecture.
- 2.) Yes I know that some people don’t ever ccpy and paste paths but many of the more intelligent and/or aware users do.