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On Permalinks.

As I’m working on the upcoming redesign of this place, I’m trying to reassess every single decision I ever made when originally creating Dirty Feed. Everything from the category structure, through to comments, and even the URL structure of the site.

Whilst thinking of that latter point, I’ve been considering this post from Matt Gemmell:

“Can we talk, briefly, about the URLs on your blog?

If you’re like most people, your permalinks (the permanent links to individual posts) probably look like this:

yourdomain.com/2015/02/24/title-of-post

We’re all familiar with those URLs. The date of the post is explicit, so you need never wonder when it was written, or how recent it is.

Here’s the thing, though: they’re horrible.”

Oh dear. I am a naughty boy.

In fact, I end up disagreeing with the vast majority of his piece1 – but let’s skip right to his main point, as I think it’s the most interesting.

“But there’s another reason, and it’s more compelling than any of the above. Date-encumbered URLs dilute your article’s standing.

Here’s what each style says to me:

  • macro-gurber.co/2014/02/14/about-smartwatches: This is what Macro thought about smartwatches on Valentine’s Day last year. Which raises some other questions, admittedly.

  • macro-gurber.co/about-smartwatches: This is Macro’s definitive goddamned opinion on smartwatches.

That’s the distinction. Have a think about it for a moment. The latter, shorter style is what you want.”

My problem with this: I am never going to have a definitive goddamned opinion on anything. And frankly, I worry about anyone who thinks that they have one. We should all be open to changing our minds. The latter, shorter style here very much is not what I want.

To take an example, let’s take a look at what the URL for this article would be, if I followed Matt’s advice:

http://www.dirtyfeed.org/on-permalinks/

Certainly, www.dirtyfeed.org is going to be the place I use for my random nonsense for many years to come, whatever that random nonsense happens to be. If I live 50 more years, I think I’m more likely to be using this domain than not. So, the above URL indicates: “What I think about permalinks, forever.” And I may have very different opinions on permalinks in 50 years.2 I may not, of course, but how can you tell? I can’t see into the future to tell what I’ll think of this article in 50 years time.

Instead, the current URL format makes more sense to me:

http://www.dirtyfeed.org/2017/01/on-permalinks/

This article is what I had to say about permalinks, in January 2017. Perhaps there’s an argument for simplifying things a bit, removing the “01”, and just indicating it’s how I felt about permalinks in 2017. (Unlike Matt’s original example, I already don’t include the day, which I agree is pointless.) But the crucial thing is: it doesn’t indicate that it’s my definitive goddamn opinion on permalinks, and that’s entirely intentional.

It very much isn’t.


  1. For instance, the first reason given against dates in URLs is: “They’re visually ugly. Strings of numbers aren’t nice to look at. They look like they’re made for machines.” Considering I used to happily write things like “20/01/17” at the top of every piece of schoolwork I did, I don’t consider my URLs to look especially ugly or only suited to machines.

    An ugly URL which is made for machines I would suggest is something like:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5sYtul-U3J4

  2. If, of course, they still exist. But that’s a whole other discussion. 

■ Posted 20th January 2017 @ 7pm in Internet. 4 Comments.

4 Comments

Richard Goodwin on 20 January 2017 @ 10pm

Thing is, once your site has been running for a while it’s too late to change it anyway – I’d rather keep a link name system that someone thinks is ugly than break incoming traffic from other sites, SocMed and the googles.

And there’ll probably be an article in a couple years saying how precision with number use is the new hotness anyway.


Jamie on 21 January 2017 @ 7pm

15 years ago, I chose the shorter URL pattern for Transdiffusion, because *obviously* the articles were going to be timeless and definitive forever. When I left the organisation for a few years, my successors changed it ://year/month/day/subject because all articles, even ones about what happened on the Baird 30-line television experiments in 1934, date. New information becomes available. Old information is proven incorrect. Newer, better articles on the subject are written. At worst, links rot, images stop appearing and writers die.

On becoming editor again, I kept with this policy. They were right. I was wrong. Matt Gemmell is an idiot.


John Hoare on 22 January 2017 @ 5pm

Talking about this with a friend the other day, something else in favour of my policy came up: having the year in the URL makes thematic sense for Dirty Feed. A major theme of the site is “over the years, look at how things change, and look at how things stay the same”. I really like how the idea of the passage of time is reflected in the URL structure, pretentious as that might sound.

Basically: everyone should choose the permalink structure which feels right for their site, not be guided by rules which may not suit your particular circumstances.


Andrew Bowden on 22 January 2017 @ 8pm

I was looking for some HTML information the other day and permalinks were one of the most useful things for getting rid of the out of date information – of which there is now lots – because so many sites don’t bother putting publication information on it.

Now some sites it doesn’t matter that much, but others, it’s so important. And certainly the Andrew Bowden “view” on web development related things has changed over the years. Things I did seven years ago are not relevant or appropriate now.

Sorry Macro, but you’re wrong.


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