Consider the medium when using URLs

I was shopping at the local food coop last week and saw a sign that said “Take an online sustainability survey and be entered into a raffle to win a free green home makeover!”

Well sure, why not? I guess I could use a little greening of my home, or I could hand the prize off to a friend. So I picked up one of the paper slips containing the information, shoved it into my wallet, and continued with my regularly scheduled shopping trip.

As I was cleaning receipts out of my wallet this morning, I rediscovered the piece of paper. It had a short, well-written message asking people to “[T]ake a moment to fill out this survey to benefit sustainability research,” and listed a url on surveymonkey.com. Simple enough.

A little problem: the url is 68 characters long and includes a 30-digit uid containing the chars [a-zA-Z0-9_]:

http://www.surveymonkey.com/s.aspx?sm=xfGOwGwNz9CKRjd2_2fjBKUg_3d_3d

Most people don’t like typing in long strings of seemingly random characters, especially if they have to differentiate between upper- and lower-case letters. Survey Monkey’s url is easy to pass around in an email where a user has only to click on it or copy it into the address bar of their web browser, but in printed text form, the length and complexity of a url is something that needs to be considered.

One way to mitigate this problem, something that Survey Monkey could do right now, is to use a URL Shortener or to build URL Shortening into the Survey Monkey site directly. For example, using http://ur1.ca/, the Survey Monkey url above could be reduced to:

http://ur1.ca/7jli

Survey Monkey could do something similar internally if it were to change its public survey urls to a form like http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/XXXX, where XXXX would be a shortening of their longer url format.

Note that ur1.ca only uses lowercase letters and numbers. I believe that using only lowercase letters provides more clarity, especially when reading a URL in print or having someone tell it to you over the phone, so I’d suggest that Survey Monkey follow this rule as well.

The next time you print out a url for an event or want to tell someone a longish url over the phone, consider using a url shortening service to make your life easier. It’s all about working with technology instead of fighting against it.

I couldn’t finish this post without a nod to http://www.giganticurl.com/. Whereas this post talks about the benefits of shortening your urls, gigantic url does…well, quite the opposite, oversizing them to amazing proportions. I haven’t really found a use for this service yet, but I like its style. If you can think of a good use, leave a comment on this post!

Keep your stick on the ice,
–Q

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One thought on “Consider the medium when using URLs

  1. qubit's status on Sunday, 19-Jul-09 15:03:06 UTC - Identi.ca

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