Search terms instead of URLs

Posted on 26 Aug 2008

Web addresses are horrible. They're difficult to remember and poorly understood. Which is why I found the recent trend of suggesting search terms instead of quoting a URL interesting.

Although most URLs are now quoted without the leading "http://www." the remaining portion is still pretty unfriendly. Consider top level domains (TLDs): .com, .net, .org., .info, .biz, .edu, there are hundreds and plans to add more. Why do we need all these? Most people still think that only non-profit organisations can buy .org domains. Then the rules for what characters are allowed are different for the domain portion (the bit up to and including the .com) and the path portion (the optional bit after the first /). The domain is not case-sensitive but the path often is (but not always).

Last week I noticed that PM on BBC Radio 4 have stopped giving out the URL of their blog. Instead, Eddie Mair says "type pm blog into any search engine to find it". This is easier to remember but also easier to say in a natural way compared to "bee bee see dot co dot you kay slash blogs slash pee em".

Then later that day I noticed that the current Orange ad campaign (somehow piggybacking on the achievements of people who mostly have nothing to do with Orange) also quotes search terms rather than a URL. The bottom left of the posters say "Search online for 'i am'" which, as several people have noticed, yields some amusing results.

Could this be the beginning of the end for URLs? No, probably not, but there's no harm in hoping.